Opposition to Mount Shasta cell tower formed quickly

Skye Kinkade

Though T-Mobile representatives say a cell tower just outside Mount Shasta City limits will improve reception for local residents and along Interstate 5, some in the community are not happy about the idea.

Associate Planner Rowland Hickel at the Siskiyou County Planning Department said after initial studies, a Mitigated Negative Declaration seemed like the correct designation for the project, since there is "no substantial evidence (the facility) would cause significant damage to the environment."

Opponents of the tower disagree, and 54 people came together at a backyard meeting on Sunday evening to discuss the situation. With the nearest residence 200 feet away, worries of declining property values and a blight on the beauty of the town are paramount. Others are worried about possible harmful health effects and the loss of a potential "Rails to Trails" recreational area that could give Mount Shasta an economic advantage.

Rod Delarosa, spokesperson for T-Mobile, explained that cell towers use "line of sight" technology, and the need for a tower somewhere in the area near Mount Shasta High School is desired to strengthen the network.

This is the second time T-Mobile has tried to secure a site in that area. In 2010, the Mount Shasta Recreation and Parks District board denied a proposal that would have allowed T-Mobile to erect a cell tower on an existing light pole at Shastice Park. At that time, dozens of community members attended their meeting and brought forward their concerns, which included worries for the health and safety of park users, particularly children.

The currently proposed tower would be disguised as a 90 foot pine tree and would be located off of Everitt Memorial Highway.

A public review period, during which the county collects comments about the proposal, began July 20 and will end on Aug. 20. According to the notice of intent that was sent out to residents who live near the proposed site, those who challenge either the proposed project or the project's environmental document in court may be limited to raising only the issues brought forward during this period.

'Don't Cell Out' campaign

Barry Kaye, who lives on Butte Street, about 400 to 500 feet away from the proposed site, said he worked for years to design and build his dream home, only to finally move to Mount Shasta and get a letter saying a 90 foot cell tower has been proposed, essentially in his back yard.

Kaye, the Chief Financial Officer at the Mt. Shasta Ski Park, said he's read a lot about the safety of cell towers, and found there are conclusive arguments that show there are harmful health effects, and others that have found there are none.

But beyond the safety aspect, Kaye said the location is "completely inappropriate" and worries that the site, currently zoned for single family residences, will set a precedent.

"If Siskiyou County has no ordinance to plan where cell towers can be built, this issue will continue to come up," said Kaye.

"A cell tower can go anywhere, but there's only one rail corridor," Kaye said, speculating it would be an economic boon for the city and the county if a Rails to Trails system could be created.

"It's an asset... the county planning department should look at the potential uses. It has huge recreation potential"

Melinda Willey, who is helping to coordinate the "Don't Cell Out Mount Shasta" campaign, said she is worried about the adverse health effects of electromagnetic signals, despite what the Federal Communications Commission says are safe levels.

"Doctors and researchers and scientists all around the world are saying EMF levels are at an epidemic level," Willey said. "This is a slippery slope. If this tower is approved along the railroad here, what will stop cell companies from building more towers up and down the tracks?"

Those who live on Butte Street, very near to the tower's proposed location, say they believe it is a "completely inappropriate location for such a facility."

"There can be no doubt that residents and visitors value the beauty of our mountain home. The vision for a Mount Shasta and Siskiyou County economic development tourism strategy is evolving and can include a recreational trail system that would appeal to a national audience," wrote Kristin Carter and Alex and Terra Hogstrom in a letter to the editor. "The cell tower proposal has no local community value – and in fact would deteriorate the visual appeal of our Everitt Memorial gateway to the mountain."

T-Mobile's perspective

"Our customers demand great service," said T-Mobile spokesperson Delarosa. "They want their phones to work wherever they are," not just for making calls, but to browse the internet and send and receive photos and video.

Delarosa says more people are choosing to become "mobile-only" households and need their mobile devices to work.

"Large buildings, hills, and tall trees can limit signal strength and thus affect where a site may be located," according to information provided by T-Mobile. "(The company's) priority is to place new wireless facilities in industrial, commercial, and mixed-use areas when possible. However, as customers increasingly use their wireless phones at home... it becomes necessary to locate wireless facilities in neighborhoods."

If the tower is constructed, Delarosa said T-Mobile will work with other companies who may wish to co-locate in order to consolidate cell sites and eliminate the need for several towers.

As for the health concerns, Delarosa said T-Mobile works "well within national safety guidelines established by the federal government."

"Measurements made near typical T-Mobile installations have shown that ground-level measurements are typically thousands of times less than the Federal Communications Commission's limits for safe exposure," Delarosa said. "The proposed facility would be 0.21 percent of the applicable public exposure limit set by the FCC."

Planning Department view

Hickel said the Planning Department recommended a Mitigated Negative Declaration because after the initial study, there was no substantial evidence to show there would be a significant impact to the environment.

He used a series of checkboxes on a worksheet to identify possible hazards and decide if the project would be safe for the proposed site.

When the study was complete, "from our point of view, it looked like a Mitigated Negative Declaration," Hickel said.

The Notice of Intent sent to all residents within 300 feet of the proposed site is only the first step in completing such a project, Hickel said.

The Siskiyou County Planning Department will now gather public comment and, based on those comments, will make a recommendation to the Planning Commission.

The Planning Commission will be able to approve or deny the Mitigated Negative Declaration, Hickel said. They could also recommend changes to the permit or send it back for a full Environmental Impact Report.

A date for the project's public hearing before the Commission hasn't been set yet, Hickel said, but once it is, the notice will run in the Mt. Shasta Area Newspapers and a letter will be sent 10 days in advance to nearby homeowners and all those who submitted public comments.

About the proposal

The 90 foot cell tower, also called a "monopine," would be built within a 575 square foot fenced enclosure along the McCloud Railroad right-of-way. T-Mobile would be leasing the site from the railroad, Hickel said.

While the trees in the right-of-way are shorter than 90 feet, however, Hickel pointed out there are nearby trees in the 100 to 120 foot range.

The proposed project site is located between Butte Avenue and Ski Village Drive, in a place that's currently zoned for single family residences, said Hickel.

According to the project documents, which can be found online at www.co.siskiyou.ca.us/PHS/planning/publicdocuments.aspx, the facility would initially include a single equipment shelter, utility cabinets, a 100 watt outdoor site light, and nine panel antennas mounted at 85 feet. Areas would be available within the facility to allow additional carriers to co-locate.

Access to the site would be through a new driveway from Everitt Memorial Highway.

According to project documents, there are six single-family residences located within 500 feet of the project site, with the nearest residence approximately 200 feet to the south.

More information

For more information about the project, call Rowland Hickel, Associate Planner at Siskiyou County Public Health and Community Development, 841-2100.