AT&T cell tower: What's the real issue?

My wife Brooks and I recently had our rather quiet lives explode with publicity surrounding our opposition to a proposed cell tower installation near the Hidden Springs Wellness Center, which we built 10 years ago and work in with 11 other health practitioners and three employees. We thought it might help clear up some confusion to write briefly about what we think the real issue here is.

It's not cell phones. I have a cell phone; almost everybody has a cell phone these days. The issue isn't cell towers. They're everywhere, including throughout Ashland. We need cell towers to have cell phones. The issue isn't reduced signal strength, as AT&T has acknowledged an alternative site that is the same distance from the center of their search ring. And the issue isn't adverse health effects, because federal law won't let the city use that as a criteria for cell tower location.

We don't oppose another cell tower going up in Ashland, just where AT&T wants to put it. Ashland city law mandates co-locating with an existing cell tower as the preferred option for new installations, "if it is feasible." AT&T checked out an existing site at the south freeway interchange, where Verizon already has a cell tower. The company wrote that it was "a reasonable location according to the search map." But it chose another site, the Ashland Cinemas site, as its preferred site.

As required by the Planning Department, AT&T held a community meeting to get public input. The Daily Tidings article quoted what Katie Yasui told them at that meeting: "There are wellness centers right there and that's going to put them out of business." Others at that meeting protested this location, for business and a host of other reasons. But AT&T continued with its application for the cinema site, saying that it would be more efficient and potentially serve more customers. They gave two reasons for this: a "slight increase in ground elevation" and a shorter run of coaxial cable. But these assertions have since been refuted by Vitaly Geyman, an electronics engineer who installed cell towers all across Australia before he came to Ashland. He believes that AT&T can get as good a signal strength at the south freeway location.

We think there is another reason AT&T prefers the Cinema site: The other site would cost the company more money. The impact on our community businesses frequented by people who perceive that there is a health risk seems to mean nothing to AT&T. The input from our community seems to mean nothing to them. So, a nationwide battle has come to Ashland: corporate profit versus human values.

We'd like AT&T to co-locate at the existing Verizon location or find another one with community input that is less disruptive to our community.

Friends have asked us what they can do. First, here is what not to do: Please do not protest, picket or disrupt the businesses in the Ashland Shopping Center. They are as innocent in this as we are. We want to support their businesses. Even the owner of the shopping center is innocent. I'm sure he must have had no idea of the affect this could have on our businesses when he signed the lease. AT&T continued with this site proposal, even after the company knew it would destroy local businesses. You can protest AT&T, but please, do not protest at any local businesses!

If you would like to express your views before the open record period ends on May 19, send an e-mail to April at lucasa@ashland.or.us. Or, mail a letter to the Planning Commission, 20 E. Main St., or drop it off to 51 Winburn in the Plaza sharing your views.

Thanks for all of the heartwarming community support we, and the others affected by this, have received from so many people. We hope this brief explanation clears up any confusion and lets the community know why we are opposed to this cell tower being built at the cinema.

Rod and Brooks Newton own the Hidden Springs Wellness Center. They can be reached at newtons@mind.net and will send out a fact sheet upon request.

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