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SOU cell tower gets public airing

A Verizon cell tower soon will be installed atop the Science Building at Southern Oregon University, and to alleviate concerns about safety, transparency, lack of public input or electromagnetic radiation, the school will hold a public meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Rogue River Room of the Stevenson Union.

The tower will be screened by a wall that also hides a new heating, ventilation and air-conditioning unit, says SOU spokesman Joe Mosley, and it will not make any sound, unlike the HVAC that was disputed by neighbors in recent months.

Cellphone reception has “not been the best” on campus or in that part of town, says Mosley, but the system will strengthen the signal in that area. Verizon will pay SOU $18,000 a year in rent.

Neighbors were of two minds, with supporters welcoming better coverage or waiting for proof of harm, and opponents worried about health effects of a tower nearby.

Carlie Irvin said, “There’s no scientific proof it harms my health. 'Til I get that, I’m indifferent. Plus, it improves my service, and I want that for my work and in case of emergency. I believe good service is good for our community.”

Thom Jones, who was notified about the tower, said, “It’s much ado about nothing. It’s not a critical thing. I appreciate people’s concerns, but it’s news to me, the radiation thing. There are so many other things to worry about, and this is not high on my list.”

His son, Bryan Jones, echoed the thought, saying, “Any correlation with risk is not proven. I may be a little bit concerned, but there’s not a lot we can do about it. They have to put it somewhere.”

“It’s terrible,” said Steve Walters, the closest neighbor to the Science Building. “It’s bad enough, the HVAC racket. The radiation is not good for humans to be so close. I use TV with signal through the air and it will probably screw that up.” He had not been notified about the installation.

Almost as close as Walters, Stella Maris said, “No, I haven’t been notified about it. I don’t want it. I’d rather not have that signal on my body all day long. I’m going to the meeting and let them know I’m against it.”

Ashland resident Rik Jensen, who does not live in the adjacent neighborhood, put out an email charging SOU with lack of transparency for sending out notices late in the game and not notifying neighbors in a wide enough area.

Verizon, or the installer Smartlink, had sent letters to neighbors and, said Mosley, SOU received only a couple of responses from neighbors who didn’t approve of it for reasons of safety, noise and appearance.

“It is not a secret,” Mosley said. “All public notices have been given at every step along the way. It would be broad to say neighbors are upset. We don’t want to discount anyone’s concerns."

Mosley notes that students have not been given notice of the system, adding that no dorms are near it.

“We are guided by some pretty strong evidence (on the safety of cell towers) from the American Cancer Society. There is no evidence of any danger from cell towers.”

In the past six months, Mosley said, the proposal successfully went through all required procedures on campus and with the city Planning Department.

Verizon documents describe it as six-panel antennas with supporting base transmission equipment at ground level (behind landscaping). Calculations from Verizon note that the MPE (maximum permissible exposure) at ground level is 1.6 percent of the MPE limit for the general population. It says that because power is under 2,000 watts, it’s exempt from environmental evaluation.

Pointing to the emission that’s 1.6 percent of the safe limit, Mosley said, “That’s why we feel it’s safe.”

A registered professional engineer, B.J. Thomas, concluded, “Based on calculations, the proposed WCF (wireless communications facility) will comply with current FCC and county guidelines for human exposure to radio frequency electromagnetic fields.”

— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Steve Walters, whose property is the closest in the neighborhood to a planned cell tower on the SOU Science Building, said he is concerned about possible health effects. [Photo by John Darling]