New Cell Tower Proposed on SOU Campus Triggers Public Debate

Featured photo ©AT&T

A new AT&T cell tower is being proposed near the SOU dorms to increase campus coverage, but not everyone is happy about the plan, as was evident by a public meeting last month when some residents voiced their opposition.

The meeting was sponsored by AT&T and attended by about 50 people, many of whom are homeowners. The meeting’s purpose was to give community members a chance to learn more about the plans before the city issues a permit to allow construction. Current regulations require companies to contact landowners within 300 feet of a proposed cell phone tower, and federal rulings do not allow local governments to factor in health issues when deciding whether to allow cell towers to be built.

The AT&T spokesperson at the meeting said the company has been in contact with near by schools such as the Head Start preschool, Walker Elementary, Ashland Middle School and SOU, about the presence of a cell tower.

The company states that a new cell tower would help SOU students and their families, along with nearby residents, by providing better cell service. However, most attendees asked why AT&T could not use pre-existing cell towers, such as the one on top of the Ashland Springs Hotel.

The AT&T spokesperson said the company had already added onto it, which is why they wanted to build a new one. The new tower would cover SOU and its surrounding neighborhoods.

The main concern for residents is the potential health effects of the cell tower, with it being located close to children and young adults. There is conflicting evidence on whether cell towers contribute to cancer or other detrimental health issues such as headaches, memory loss and cardiovascular stress. According to the American Cancer Society, there is “little evidence” to support such correlations. However, because there is a lack in specific studies on cell towers and the long-term risks in humans, as opposed to lab studies on animals, which have shown that there might be a negative impact from cell phone communications.

After the meeting, those objecting to the cell tower decided to take their argument to the next level. The group have written state lawmakers a letter stating,

“It is time for Oregon to take a stand and be a national leader on this subject…We see the best outcome as legislation that reflects making the protection and safety of Oregon residents a priority. We understand the insurmountable challenges in making this a public issue.”

The residents had also traveled to Salem last week and were invited to meet and talk with their elected representatives about their concerns.

No action was taken on the plan in the public hearing. The Ashland City Council will consider it and will likely hear more public comments in the coming months.

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