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City council again addresses the Verizon cell tower

By Lauren Westmoreland
[email protected]

The last item on the Portola City Council agenda April 27 was a discussion on the previously approved construction of a Verizon cell phone tower on private property in the City of Portola, near the Eastern Plumas Health Care (EPHC) campus.

City Councilman Phil Oels noted that they had already started a concrete pad at the private construction site.

Interim City Manager Jon Kennedy said that much interest was inspired by a recent EPHC meeting where safety concerns regarding helicopter flights was brought up. “Because of the interest brought forward, and we could not discuss it because it was not agendized, we thought it would be good to bring it back up to allow for some question-and-answer period,” Kennedy said. “Maybe Josh Hart could have a little time leniency on this topic.”

Oels recused himself from the discussion due to his living in proximity to the site under discussion.

Public comment opened with Josh Hart, who said, “I appreciate this opportunity. I am Spokesperson to Plumas Wired. I was trained as a planner, and our professors drilled into us to think about the future and what would change. What crucial projects might be pre-empted by poor planning decisions.”

Hart went on to state that the permit was issued to Verizon over objections from the public and EPHC, and that “this is what happens when planners fail to look towards the future.”

This reporter previously incorrectly quoted Hart on a statement regarding micro plastics in the Feather River. The correct quote is as follows.

Hart then stated that there were plastic mono-pine towers in the Tahoe area, which are polluting the lake, and “now this similar one in Portola threatens the Feather River.”

“The city should have enforced a height limit- this could have been prevented,” Hart said. “A tower is a tower, and antennas of different frequency can be installed at any time without a permit if they are of the same size. Verizon is using microwave radiation at very high levels.”

Hart expressed concern over the effects of the tower on people in the community as well as the pollinating insects and birds, which he stated are shown to decline near cellular towers, such as in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. “Pollinating insects declined in that community by 90 percent,” Hart said. “We expect similar health problems and declines of pollinators and birds when this tower goes in, unfortunately.”

Hart also spoke about the opinions garnered from a professional, Florida based aviation safety expert-Keith Mackey, who stated that “radio altimeters and night vision were not reliable in proximity to 5G, which could restrict EPHC to daylight operations.”

“Verizon says that it (5G) won’t be installed for another five to ten years, but if we aren’t prepared, there will be no defense and we won’t be in a good situation with our air ambulance for a formally approved helipad. The FAA limits locations on helipads, like an upside-down cone. The cell tower intercepts with the cone at the current helistop,” Hart went on. “I don’t think that the questions have been adequately answered, and this planning conflict could be enough to pull the permit and look for another location. This was not investigated adequately during the initial process.”

Hart also stated that the City of Portola and EPHC need to get together to consult experts on exactly how this may affect the city in future. “We are frustrated. The city needs a telecom ordinance, as we’ve said for several years. We understand that designing disc golf courses is more fun, but this could be just the beginning if we don’t adopt an ordinance,” Hart concluded.

Doug McCoy, CEO at EPHC, commented that clearly, the project has been a source of concern over the last several months.

“In recent talks with aviation experts, they’ve indicated that flights for emergency services will not be impacted,” McCoy said. “Based on community concerns in November of 2020, readings have been taken monthly at EPHC, and we will continue our testing monthly as well to ensure the levels remain below requirements for public safety. We appreciate the city looking into our concerns and those forwarded to us. Our goal continues to be providing high level care to the community members in a safe and efficient manner.”

Cooley noted his appreciation of McCoy joining the meeting and the actions of the EPHC board. “It is clear to me that the helicopter operations that have taken place for years will not be diminished in any way due to the construction of the tower,” Cooley noted.

City Councilman Bill Powers commented that prior to the meeting, he had received an email from a Dr. Cinnamon Jones Cruse, and he had said that he would read her comment aloud to council.

In keeping with comments made earlier by Josh Hart, the email urged council to revoke the permit and dig into effects of EMF on health of people, plants and animals. “The truth is being whitewashed. Did we not learn anything from big tobacco?” the email asked. It also asked for a cease and desist order for Verizon.

Kennedy then addressed the EPHC helipad and helicopter portion of public concerns, from his perspective. “I want to clear up some comments Josh Hart noted that made it seem like I was nonchalant to the letter Keith Mackey provided. Most of you know I’m far from nonchalant, and what isn’t seen publicly is the activity that ensues when I’m researching,” Kennedy said.

“All should know my history of advocating for EPHC and members of this community. The accusation of not taking it seriously is almost a slap in the face — it’s really false. I also want to address what may have been perceived as a knee-jerk response to Keith Mackey. I am a fixed wing pilot, I was a medic firefighter, and have a little bit of experience that allowed me to come up with responses in a quick period of time due to my experience.”

Kennedy went on to state that the actual location of the tower is well outside of the approach and flight pattern to the hospital. “I apologize to anyone who may have been offended for my quick responses to Mackey’s letter. I’m convinced there shall not be any concerns with helicopter flights in and out of the hospital.”

With that, the meeting was adjourned.

The City Council meeting is accessible to the public via live streaming at https://zoom.us/j/3583067836 or by phone at 1.669.900.6833; Meeting ID: 358 306 7836.

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