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Ashland group plans appeal of cell tower

A group of Ashland residents is fighting an uphill battle against a proposed cell tower on top of the Science Building of Southern Oregon University, as its permit application has been approved.

Verizon proposes to install wireless communication facilities — including antennas and associated equipment — on the rooftop of the university’s Science Building to provide more capacity in the area. It claims that its local sector is soon to become saturated “later this year or early 2019,” potentially causing “unreliable or degraded service.”

The proposal, first submitted in August 2017, received approval from the planning department on May 16 to obtain necessary permits. A group of local residents is gearing up to fight the decision, claiming the cell tower would pose health risks to Ashland residents.

“This is a very, very bad thing for Ashland,” said Kelly Marcotulli, a retired teacher. “This stuff is very unhealthy to a lot of people.”

She claims that the cell tower would produce electromagnetic radiation that would cause health problems — nausea, headaches and flu-like symptoms — to people who live nearby the tower. Marcotulli, among with several other residents, spoke at the City Council meeting on May 15, urging the city to issue a moratorium on the project over health safety concerns.

“I encouraged you to do the research yourself,” Marcotulli said at the meeting. “It’s the council’s obligation to protect its residents.”

Marcotulli’s concerns, however, are out of reach of the council or city staff.

According to the city’s response to a written comment opposing the project due to potential unknown health effects, federal law prohibits local jurisdictions from considering “potential environmental health impacts of wireless communication facilities through the city’s local zoning authority.”

“This preclusion prevents the city from considering health impacts in individual land use decisions and would also prevent the city from imposing a moratorium of facilities of this nature,” the response reads.

The application process looks at solutions to issues such as visual impacts, noise concerns, capacity adequacy and locations. The city found the proposal to be in compliance with Ashland’s ordinance.

The council, after Marcotulli emailed them and spoke at the May 15 meeting, responded via emails saying they can’t fulfill her request of a moratorium per federal law, Marcotulli said.

“It feels like I’m trying to move mountains at this point,” Marcotulli said, adding she and her group members are struggling to find a direction forward. “I’m not a political activist, I don’t know what to do.

“Maybe we’ll sit on the sidewalk and protest this,” she said.

Marcotulli said she does plan to file an appeal to the city’s approval of the permits by the deadline of May 28.

“I feel like this got swept under the rug because people don’t know about it,” she said, adding she has helped to bring a screening of a documentary about the effect of 5G cellular technology to Ashland on June 4.

Verizon indicates it plans to install the cell tower soon to avoid impacting services in the area. It will pay SOU $18,000 annually to rent the cell site.

Mail Tribune file photo