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In the last few months several companies have begun to excelerate the process to site new cell phone towers in the area. Walterville and Springfield school grounds have been targeted -- cash strapped schools are agreeing to lease space to companies that want to errect more towers. A new wrinkle is the offer from cell phone tower companies is to build giant flag poles that -- hey!-- just have cell phone tower capabilites. Now Sprint and Verizon are hoping to install two new towers, one near a University of Oregon's graduate student apartment building, the other two blocks away at the Travelodge Motel. The neighbors are getting organized. Meanwhile, I've made a private pledge I hopeothers will take, too: to use cell phones for emergencies only.

They May Be Giants

Why We Challenge Cell Phone Towers

Birth of a Citizen's Group to Rethink the Profliferation of
Cell Phone Tower Placement

by Mona Linstromberg

Superimposed image of placement of cell phone tower behind house on Seavey Loop, proposed by Mericon, acting as an agent for AT &T near Eugene, Oregon

Where to begin? There are layers upon layers, issue upon issue. How to staunch the flow of damage at different levels until jurisdictions respond in a meaningful manner? Do we start at the top and work down? Do we start at the bottom and hope for a ground swell? Do we expend our energies trying to help real people in isolated instances? Does that approach actually facilitate the overall strategy or is it only tilting at windmills in the larger scheme of things and depleting our energy?

I am not talking about such worthy issues as world peace, world hunger, or intolerance. I am talking about the inappropriate siting of cell phone transmission towers. I am talking about corporate greed and arrogance. I am talking about creating an excessive demand for a potentially dangerous tool (cellular phones) that should be used in moderation. I am talking about how excessive use (a personal choice) creates the demand for PCS (Personal Communication Systems) towers that will be placed in communities which may not have a choice.

Starting at the top, the Federal Communications Act of 1996 says that local jurisdictions cannot say "no" to the building of PCS towers. It gives local jurisdictions a small slice of the regulatory pie regarding placement and setback from adjacent structures. However, by eliminating the most crucial criteria from consideration, the health ramifications from exposure to RF waves, the Act of 1996 prevents local jurisdictions from establishing any truly meaningful setbacks from homes and schools. The telecommunications industry still regards evidence of health risks as inconclusive, but more and more independent studies indicate the US should be erring on the side of safety in siting these towers. Canada, New Zealand, and many European countries take this issue much more seriously than does the US.

The results of one industry-sponsored study in the mid-1990s did not reach the conclusions that the telecommunications industry anticipated. So the industry sought to discredit it. Dr. George Carlo, a fellow of the American College of Epidemiology who serves on the faculty of the George Washington Univiersity of Medicine, headed the study. He decided to go public and issued a warning to both the industry and the American people

So, what can local jurisdictions really accomplish? They could just arbitrarily establish meaningful setbacks, but mostly they don't. One city in Massachusetts has a setback of 1000 feet from schools but only 300 feet from homes (obviously, children do not also live in homes being impacted). Our group has extrapolated from various sources a minimum setback of 1200 feet. Counties and municipalities across the country are grappling with this issue. They do give us some tools to use, visual impact, compatibility with a neighborhood, not too close to a greenway, an historic area, a scenic drive. These are the criteria we use to assist those whose homes and schools would stand too close to the antennae which emit low intensity, non -thermal, non-ionizing radiation.

When a neighborhood is notified of a permit application and our group is made aware of the proposed site, we first determine if our minimum setback criteria is met. If not, we will canvass the area. We provide information on how people can educate themselves on the issues. We float a five and a half foot red balloon to determine how visible the proposed tower would be. Pictures do speak volumes, and we can superimpose a picture of a comparable tower into people's views. We will even assist at hearings. However, the ultimate responsibility is with the community. Sometimes our biggest hurdle is convincing people that they can make a difference, and they CAN.

This is a federal issue, a state issue, a county issue, and a neighborhood issue. You can make a difference. Remember, your neighborhood may be next.

We began as many citizen groups do -- seeking to address our concerns after an encounter with the faceless "giants". A notice of a special use permit application for a 190-foot-tall transmission tower was mailed last Dec. 21 to landowners within the notification boundaries in our neighborhood south of Veneta. The deadline for written comments was Jan. 2. We have been commenting ever since to our elected officials at all levels and in the media. We have even gone door to door.

We called ourselves the Territorial Neighborhood Coalition. One family in the area has lived here for over fifty years, several thirty years. Some had never even met before, but for months many met every Saturday at the local library to share information, plan strategy, and just vent.

"Our" particular tower company soon found out there was going to be tremendous local opposition, They filed an extension with the county so that the application process is and will be on hold indefinitely until Trinity Wireless (SDS, Inc) reactivates it.

At that point, several in our group decided that this was everybody's issue. Neighborhoods in Lane County and in Eugene were fighting one site at a time, and, to us, it seemed that it was time to reach out and make a difference. We started attending the weekly meeting at which people could speak for three minutes before the county board of commissioners. Two of us did this for months until the Lane County commissioners organized a task force to come up with recommendations for an ordinance to deal with the appropriate placement of PCS towers. The public hearings will start this fall.

Some of us hoped to make an impression on Trinity. Until they realized that neighborhoods should not be bullied and that there should be a minimum setback from homes and school, we would confront them where possible. They could ignore us, but we wouldn't go away. My particular efforts have been focused on Trinity in the county where they seemed to have the most activity, Lincoln County, my home county. When I hear of a permit application, I canvass a community, float balloon, do the visuals, appear at the hearings, with community involvement.

Our first denial of a permit application was in the small rural community of Eddyville. The next site was in Otis. We did not become involved until after a permit was approved and that decision was appealed. We requested a de novo hearing for new evidence (balloon photos with tower simulations). It was granted (one commissioner stated this was the first time in her career she had supported hearing new evidence), and we won the appeal with a unanimous vote. I do suggest to people that they consult a lawyer, but in neither case did we utilize an attorney. In the latter case, an attorney was contacted, and one of the concerned parties was told that the land use lawyer never took a case he was not sure he could win (it is not only the telecommunications industry that is arrogant). I think the heart needs to come from the community, and a lawyer is never going to be able to present that side.

We also became involved in a case in Lane County. This time it was a small rural community just outside Eugene. This was one of few permit applications for PCS towers in Lane County to be denied. The applicant was Mericom, an agent for AT & T. I have been told that the Seavey Loop decision is now precedent in Lane County for the siting of towers. That is another story. However, people can make a big difference. Seavey Loop people made a huge difference.

We are now called Citizens for the Responsible Placement of Cell Phone Transmission Towers. We soon hope to be affiliated with Citizens for the Approppriate Placement of Telecommunication Facilites.
We have compiled a list of web links for you.

Contact me at

Update - Two new proposed placements near the University of Oregon campus. The Villard Neighbors get organized.

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