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Cell tower outside Ashland meets resistance

Jackson County will hold a public hearing about a proposed cell tower outside Ashland that has some people concerned about potential negative health and aesthetic impacts.

County Development Services staff gave tentative approval Oct. 15, 2014, for the 84-foot-tall tower and antennae at 290 E. Ashland Lane near Exit 19.

Neighbor Arleen Van Buskirk and state Sen. Alan Bates, who lives in Medford but represents Ashland, requested a public hearing on AT&T's proposed cell tower. 

The hearing is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Monday, March 2, in the Jackson County Courthouse auditorium, 10 S. Oakdale Ave., Medford.

Jon Early, Van Buskirk's son, said the family has a host of concerns about the cell tower.

"Our main concern is about radiation. We raise organic beef and we're afraid of birth defects. We're worried the property value will plummet. One of our minimal concerns is it would be a major eyesore," Early said.

During the approval process, the city of Ashland also raised concerns the tower would be unsightly.

County staff imposed conditions that the tower be built in a "stealth" style to look like a pine tree. The tower's equipment shelter must be built to blend in with surrounding homes. A fence and landscaping will surround the shelter, according to county planning documents.

The tower must be at least 200 feet from any homes, but property owners to the east raised concerns because they have approval to build a secondary home within 200 feet of the tower. County staff members said the secondary home would be outside the 200-foot buffer if it is built closer to a primary home on the property, documents show.

In response to neighbors' fears about cell-tower radiation, the county said negative health issues are outside the scope of the county's review, other than to require compliance with Federal Communications Commission requirements.

"AT&T puts safety of our customers and the community first," said AT&T Spokesperson Rick Thomas. "Because of the demand for advanced mobile technology and devices, it is essential that the networks that provide these invaluable services are upgraded and expanded. AT&T builds and maintains all cellphone towers and antennas in accordance with FCC guidelines for human exposure to radio frequency fields."

AT&T is proposing the cell tower because of gaps in coverage. It has received numerous coverage complaints and service requests from customers. The new tower will significantly improve coverage in the area, according to the company.

At ground level near cell towers, the amount of radio frequency energy is thousands of times less than limits for safe exposure set by the FCC and other regulatory agencies, according to the FCC.

Most scientists agree cell tower sites are unlikely to cause cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.