EZZELL – Greta Henke walked in front of the Ezzell School as she looked up at the tall gray cell tower that remained unfinished Thursday morning.
Though the cell tower is more than 300 feet from the small historic school on Farm-to-Market Road 531, near Hallettsville, Henke worries about the possible long-term implications of having the tower in close proximity to children.
“I don’t care to stick around and wait to see if something happens to my children because of this tower,” Henke said, as a nearby cow mooed. “It’s a small school, but it’s an amazing school. We shouldn’t have kids, and teachers, so close to this tower.”
Henke is one of the parents of the Ezzell school district who are fighting to have an AT&T cell tower moved away from the rural school because of possible health risks.
The petition was started by Jessica Rosas, whose child attends the school. Rosas said she and other parents, like Henke, are concerned about the radiation emitted from the cell tower from radiofrequency signals.
“Being in a place with wide-open spaces, they (AT&T) could have selected any where to put the tower,” she said.
The Federal Communications Commission has said that radiofrequency emissions from antennas used for cellular transmissions are typically “thousands of times” below safety limits:
“Therefore, there is no reason to believe that such towers could constitute a potential health hazard to nearby residents or students.”
According to the American Cancer Society, at this time, ”there is very little evidence” to support the idea that living, working, or attending a school near a cell phone tower might increase the risk of cancer or other health issues.
The society also said, though, that very few human studies have focused specifically on cellphone towers and cancer risk, according to a statement on the organization’s website.
But that uncertainty is worrisome, Rosas said.
When Henke learned about the tower, she found news articles online about four California children who were diagnosed with cancer after a cellphone tower was built near the school.
“It is a major concern and I think it is important for people to know about the possibility,” Henke said.
The school district has also filed a temporary restraining order against any further construction on the tower.
Superintendent Lisa Berckenhoff said the school district was not notified about the construction of the cell tower. She said she found out about the tower when she saw people working on the tower’s foundation in May, and decided to ask what the construction was for.
Berckenhoff learned that AT&T posted an advertisement about the cell tower in the Hallettsville newspaper, but notification was never sent to Berckenhoff or the Ezzell school board.
The tower is not located on school property, but on privately owned land. According to court documents, the land the tower is being built is owned by Frances Elaine Heinemann of Cuero. Calls to Heinemann were not returned.
Berckenhoff contacted the school district’s attorney to issue a temporary restraining order to halt any more construction on the tower in May. Lavaca County 25th District Court Judge Jessica Richard Crawford granted the school district’s petition on May 24, and a hearing for temporary injunction is scheduled for June 12.
AT&T declined to comment on how the company determines where a cell tower is built or whether the company had notified the Ezzell school district about the construction of a cell tower close to the school. The company also declined to comment on the temporary restraining order filed against the company.
Instead it issued the following statement:
“This proposed new cell site, which we plan to place our equipment on, is part of our ongoing investment in the Lavaca County area to significantly improve cell phone coverage and provide broadband service. This coverage is critical for public safety, both for the residents in the area as well as the school. The location of the site was chosen to best meet our customers’ needs. We follow all state and local guidelines, including providing the required public notice, and did so in this case. We’ll continue to work to provide the best experience for our customers in this community.”
Berckenhoff said the district is using the time before the hearing to gather signatures for a petition to bring before the judge. The school district is petitioning to have the tower moved at least 1,500 feet away from the school, which has a Texas historical marker.
One of Berckenhoff’s concern is that parents will pull their children out of the small school district. The school, which houses prekindergarten through eighth grade, had 88 students in May when school ended for the year.
The school board also plans to discuss its next move during a meeting on June 11, but supporters of the petition plan to fight the giant company to have the tower moved.
“We are very cautious to spend money – everyone’s school budgets are tight and we do not want to spend any excess money, but we want to protect our kids,” Berckenhoff said. “We are doing this to protect our livelihood.”
Watching the vest-adorned mannequin at the end of the tarmac, the crowd of Crossroads law enforcement and emergency officials braced themselves.
“Suicide vest in 3, 2, 1,” said Explosives Enforcement Officer Alex Guerrero, of The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
A ball of rapidly expanding orange flame flashed several hundred feet away, and a cloud of white smoke and flying debris erupted followed fractions of a second later by a dull thud.
The crowd winced as they heard and felt the ensuing shock wave.
Thursday afternoon at an old runway at the Victoria Regional Airport, more than 50 members of various Crossroads law enforcement and emergency organizations saw firsthand the destructive power of 16 varying explosive devices. The demonstration was the second part of an educational event hosted by ATF officials Thursday preceded by a classroom lesson. Another identical event will follow Friday.
At both events were officials representing the U.S. Marshal’s Service, police departments from Victoria, Yoakum and Seadrift; constables’ offices in Victoria and Calhoun counties, fire departments in Victoria, Port Lavaca and Fannin; as well as the Victoria Office of Emergency Management.
“The whole day was just awesome,” said Firefighter Kathy Stratman, 72, an 11-year veteran of the Fannin Volunteer Fire Department, adding, “It showed us some explosives that we weren’t aware of. When we get on a scene, we never know what we run into.”
During the demonstration, Stratman and others listened to a presentation led by Guerrero underneath a brutal South Texas afternoon sun. Despite their discomfort, they were rewarded with the opportunity to see, hear and feel various explosives that ranged from Molotov cocktails to C-4, a powerful explosive used by many militaries, to the widely available tannerite.
Although bombs used for domestic and international terrorism may have attracted the imagination and fears of the public as of late, explosives wielded by criminals have always been a danger, said Guerrero, who was the lead ATF bomb technician during the March 2018 Austin bombings.
Although ATF officials agreed terrorism has yet to strike in the Crossroads, they said authorities can never be too prepared.
“It’s just like the burning of the mosque, you never know until it happens,” Guerrero said of the 2017 arson at the Victoria Islamic Center.
Those in attendance agreed.
“You can never have too much training,” said Senior Patrol Officer David Brogger, spokesman for the Victoria Police Department. “This is a rare opportunity.”
In fact, ATF Special Agent David Taylor, who organized the two-day educational event, said it had been at least 10 years since Crossroads authorities were given a similar opportunity.
Clunk. Cloud of dust. Cobwebs stretch between the dusty, oversized door and the heavy iron door knocker as an actor in a spooky film prepares to enter the haunted mansion.
Clunk. Dust. Pause. Clunk. Dust. Cough.
The door creeps open with long, drawn-out squeaks and creaks. Imagine the organ music that erupts abruptly and loudly: da! da! da! na na na na na! It’s one of the most famous pieces of organ music, and it’s commonly associated with anything eerie, horrific or villainous in popular culture.
“The Bach Influence” opened with this work, “Toccata in D minor,” BWV 565, by Johann Sebastian Bach at First United Methodist Church Thursday during the Victoria Bach Festival. Internationally-renowned organist Renée Anne Louprette played the piece on the enormous organ in the loft overlooking the guest-filled pews. More than 125 people attended the performance.
The Visser-Rowland organ was built in 1986 and has 1,546 individual pipes ranging from 1 foot to 16 feet tall, said Ashley Hunter, music director for the Methodist church. Three keyboards, a pedal board and 32 ranks, which are associated with the number of sound choices, keep the organist busy. “This is quite a large instrument for Victoria” and certainly one of the largest in the Crossroads, she continued.
Hunter began playing the piano at age 7 but called herself a beginner at the organ because the two keyboard instruments are very different. Her husband, Glenn Hunter, music director for the Cathedral of Our Lady of Victory, has played the organ since about age 13. He plays during the Catholic Masses on weekends.
“The piano helps with the fingers, but when you throw the feet in, it’s a whole different ball game,” Hunter said of playing the piano versus the organ.
The first half of the concert focused on the styles Bach drew upon for his compositions, and the second half concentrated on the composers influenced by Bach.
Louprette played the organ in the loft above and behind the guests, so a screen was erected at the front of the church that allowed the audience to see what was happening upstairs in real time. Toward the beginning of the program, Louprette, with microphone in hand, provided insight into the program from the balcony’s edge. Between some works, she rose from her organ bench and bowed to guests below as they applauded.
“First of all, I like her connections with the talk at the beginning,” Hunter said. “The newer songs really did feed off what Bach did, and I think she did a really good job of picking pieces that complemented each other.”
Louprette played eight selections. Following the familiar “Toccata in D minor,” she played Bach’s trio super “Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend,” BWV 655a, a difficult organ piece requiring the right and left hands and the feet to work in complex ways to create a “great sound,” Hunter said. Bach’s “Aus tiefer Not, schrei ich zu dir,” BWV 686, which translates to “Out of the depths have I cried unto Thee,” a hymn of penance based on Psalm 130, also was part of the program. The masterwork weaves six different voices into each theme of the tune, four in the keyboards and two in the pedal.
Suzanne LaBrecque, a Victoria Bach Festival board member, first heard Louprette play at the Victoria festival in 2017. On a trip to New York City the next year, she visited Trinity Church and happened upon an organ recital being performed in the loft. The organist was Louprette. The New York Times has called her “one of New York’s finest organists.”
“I’m a big fan,” LaBrecque said. “Her music lifts you up and takes you to new and beautiful places.”
In addition to the chance encounter in New York, LaBrecque has enjoyed three live concerts performed by Louprette at the Victoria Bach Festival since 2017.