Local residents express health concerns over recently relocated monopole on PGA TOUR property

Relocation part of company’s plans for new headquarters

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PGA TOUR Vice President of Integrated Communications Kirsten Sabia shared her company’s excitement about its new global home at a recent Ponte Vedra Beaches Coalition Meeting on May 20. Some community members in attendance, however, did not share that same enthusiasm.

Resident Ehsan Shirazi, an emergency medicine physician, spoke out against the PGA TOUR’s relocation of a cell phone tower closer to the Bolles Lower School Ponte Vedra Beach Campus’ playground, which is adjacent to the planned global home. Shirazi said he believes there is a possibility the frequencies emitted by the cell phone tower could be dangerous for children. 

“A lot of parents want to pull their kids out of the school,” Shirazi said at the meeting held at the Ponte Vedra Beach Branch Library. 

Cell phone tower radiation has come under more scrutiny as technology has begun the transition toward 5G, which can emit a higher radio frequency emission, according to Lifewire. The American Cancer Society claims the towers are “unlikely to cause cancer,” although opponents say some studies have shown a correlation of negative health effects and that more data needs to be collected before the towers are placed nears schools and homes. 

The Bolles School recently released the following statement regarding the controversy. 

“The new single pole cellular tower erected this month next to the Bolles Lower School Ponte Vedra Beach Campus soccer field fence is on PGA TOUR property,” said Tyler Hodges, president and head of the Bolles School. “We understand it replaces a tripod tower that had existed for many years much further away from our campus. The new tower, not yet completed or activated, also includes the St. Johns County’s emergency communication system. Bolles administrators continue to work with PGA TOUR officials daily to seek a better solution that will not have an adverse impact on the School. Currently, the PGA TOUR has agreed to put the tower construction activity on hold as we work through this process. Any concerns or questions regarding the construction of this tower or the merits of its location should contact officials with the PGA TOUR and St. Johns County Commission.  This is an issue of concern for the entire Bolles community. The health and safety of all Bolles students, faculty and staff are our No. 1 priority, and we will be pursuing all avenues to resolve this situation as quickly as possible.”

Sabia said at the meeting that not only was the PGA TOUR approved for the relocation of the tower by St. Johns County but that when it goes live, “it will not be a 5G tower.” She did say, however, that the tower could, “have the potential” to be 5G. In fact, she noted that the former tower had 5G capability.

“If you go onto the American Cancer Society or the FCC, you can get information about the difference between a radio frequency type of tower and the radiation that comes out of X-ray machines and body scanners as you go through the airport,” she said. “One is ionized, and one is not. The FCC regulate those types of towers.”

Non-ionizing radiation (such as visible light, heat, microwaves and radio waves) is a type of electromagnetic radiation that does not carry enough energy to damage the DNA inside cells.  Stronger types of radiation that are classified as ionizing, such as X-rays and cosmic radiation, are thought to be able to cause cancer, according to the World Health Organization. 

Recently, however, CBS Sacramento reported about parents in Ripon, California, who are protesting a tower near their children’s school that they deemed dangerous after a fourth cancer diagnosis of a student in the past three years. More than 200 students were absent from the school following the protest. 

Resident Nicole Crosby feels there is enough evidence against the towers to warrant the concern.

“I know that all the appropriate hearings and approvals were in place, I understand that, I’m not debating that,” Crosby said. “But anyone can go on the internet and see literally hundreds of studies from around the world about how these things can affect us. I mean municipalities nationwide have been putting standards in place specifying staying 800 or 1,500 feet from schools and residences. I’m not saying that you're violating any rules because we know you didn't, but the PGA (TOUR) must have had an awareness of people's concerns about this.”

The PGA TOUR recently released a statement concerning the decision about the location of the tower. 

“The PGA TOUR has been a good neighbor with The Bolles School for the 20 years it has abutted THE PLAYERS Championship parking lot,” the PGA TOUR said in the statement. “Many of our employees currently have, or had, their children attend the school due to its rich curriculum and family environment. The new monopole and its relocation was a central component of the Major Modification to the Players Club PUD, unanimously approved by the St. Johns County Commission in 2017. It was also approved by the Ponte Vedra Architectural Review Committee and the Planning & Zoning Board of St. Johns County. A representative of the PGA TOUR had multiple conversations with the school’s leadership prior to the permitting approval meetings. We are continuing to have conversations directly with the School’s administration and hope to put the concerns to rest.”

Shirazi, who brought his young son to the Coalition meeting, thinks the possibility the PGA TOUR’s decision is right doesn’t weigh against the possibility they’re wrong. 

“Are we going to come back in 20 years and say we made a mistake?” he asked. “Now let’s pay 20 billion dollars to these parents for all we caused?” 

UPDATE: Recently, a petition was set up to remove the tower from the outside of the Bolles School. Currently, over 600 residents have electronically signed. To view the petition, go to https://www.change.org/p/the-bolles-school-keep-our-kids-safe-remove-5g-cell-tower-behind-pvb-bolles-campus?recruiter=537722177&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=sms&utm_campaign=psf_combo_share_initial&utm_term=psf_combo_share_abi&recruited_by_id=36d641b0-1388-11e6-9b53-9d28f70854e5

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