By Debra Moore
Proponents want better cell phone service, while opponents fear for their health, and both sides weighed in during a zoning administrator meeting July 16.
The individuals weighed in during a public hearing on whether Sac Wireless should be allowed to erect a 75-foot monopine Verizon Wireless telecommunications tower on SPI-owned property at 1538 Lee Road in Quincy. Specifically, the 4G tower, would be located adjacent to its office.
In addition to the tower, the facility would include a generator on a concrete pad, nine additional antennae, a shade structure and an 8’ foot fence. “The project’s primary objective is to provide relief for Mt Hough,” Assistant Planner Rebecca Herrin said. “This is not a 5-G facility.”
The purpose of the public hearing was to determine if the proposed facility complied with Plumas County’s telecommunication ordinance. Herrin said the county is limited to what can be reviewed due to state and federal law. “We can look at zoning,” she said, “but we are precluded from denying the facility due to radio frequency. … “To make it clear what we are looking at are our ordinances and aesthetic considerations and zoning.”
Herrin said that Sac Wireless evaluated six sites and “this site was determined to be the most appropriate and least intrusive.” Herrin concluded that the “proposed facility meets all requirements.”
Then the power went out, so the public hearing resumed on July 15.
Herrin said that a special use permit for the tower included a series of conditions that would need to be met by Sac Wireless that pertained to lightning, biennial electromagnetic reports, security, maintenance, generator wattage, discovery of artifacts, and timely application for a building permit.
The hearing then opened to public comment.
Josh Hart, a Portola resident and spokesperson for Plumas Wired, addressed the issue first. He had been a vocal opponent of the Verizon tower proposed to be placed near the hospital in Portola.
“It’s widely known that RF (radio frequency) radiation has a deleterious health impact,” he said. “Personal health is not an environmental effect; it’s a right guaranteed to us.”
Hart said that towers like the one proposed and the one that Verizon is planning to build next to Eastern Plumas Health Care are required for streaming video. Instead, the community should turn to fiber optics, and the demand for streaming could more efficiently and safely be met with fiber than with wireless. “I strongly urge zoning administrator to deny the permit,” he said.
Zoning Administrator Tracey Ferguson read a number of communications that had been submitted to her:
Against – Especially since it’s near an elementary school.
Pro – We need to improve communication.
Against – Please deny the permit for human and ecosystem health.
Pro – Since the Camp Fire our data on Verizon didn’t work. Having access to data is a public safety issue. It could save lives.
Against – Extreme opposition, in a poor section of town, near an elementary school. We don’t need anymore cell towers regardless of what they look like.
Against – Very concerned about the addition of cell towers in our county. Fiber optics don’t have the negative effects.
Pro – I am a Verizon customer and am in favor.
Pro – My family and I are for the Verizon tower.
Against – Strongly oppose. Should be away from the elementary school.
Against – Constant exposure to electro-magnetic radiation impacted my health.
Against – Please consider opposing this new tower. I love that our small town is rural and small. I use Verizon and rarely have trouble.
Pro – My husband and I are in favor. We want to cancel our expensive landline.
Against – I oppose, especially so close to the elementary school.
Against – Please don’t authorize another tower. We don’t need extra service.
Pro – Having a Verizon cell tower would be a great benefit. So many people have been frustrated with their cell service.
Against – State my opposition. This type of tower is dangerous to our health. Why would we knowingly put harmful next to a school and the fairgrounds?
Against – Opposing the tower. Transmits high levels of radiation.
Pro – Live on Carol Lane West – thinks it’s a great idea. Any improvement to the local grid would be a plus.
Pro – I live off of Chandler Road need it for safety and convenience. Totally in favor of a cell tower.
Against – Very much against the 5G tower near residences and school.
Pro – Big proponent.
Against – I am opposed. Attempt to get these towers away from children and schools. They attract lightning and have large amounts of diesel fuel on site.
Against – Please do your research and search your heart before making residents sick.
Against – Opposed will lower my property values and present a danger to health. Very poor planning on the part of the planning commission and Board of Supervisors.
Fair Manager John Steffanic supports the addition of the tower and talked about the strain that large events such as the High Sierra Music Festival put on local communication. “Any expansion of infrastructure is positive,” he said.
Dave Kiser, a registered professional engineer, said he has been working in the wireless industry for almost 28 years and has been performing maximum exposure analyses for the past decade, and the proposed Verizon tower meets guidelines.
Another engineer representing Sac Wireless said that the coverage is very poor and not able to fill capacity on demand. “This site will definitely be needed to offset capacity from Mt. Hough site,” he said, adding that “Mount Hough becomes a backup in case fire hits it.” He addressed the specific needs of the High Sierra Music Festival, but also said they have had complaints from the Plumas County Sheriff’s Office, Public Works, and Public Health about the service, and he called it a public safety issue.
Zoning Administrator Ferguson asked for some additional information about different types of coverage as well as the noise level of the generator. Kiser said that the generator is a back-up only. “The noise would be at an absolute minimum for emergency backup.”
Ferguson next asked about the fire risk.
“Ultimately all electrical conduits are in the core,” Kiser said, and fire retardant spray is added to all branches (of the mono-pine tower which is designed to look like a tree). The tower is constructed to withstand winds, and the generator is double-walled. There are also multiple surge protectors.
Ferguson said that she had listened to the public comment and reviewed the evidence on record. After considering all of the evidence and the benefit to health and safety, she found the project exempt from CEQA and approved the special use permit subject to all conditions being met.
She said that her decision could be appealed by 5 p.m. on July 26, in which case it would go before the Board of Supervisors. There is a form and a fee that must be submitted. More information can be found at the permit center in Quincy or by logging on to the Plumas County website.