Meter concerns heard, special council election planned

Lauren Steinheimer
Flowers, brought by citizen Roslyn McCoy, sit in place of council member Tom Moore at the first city council meeting since his passing on Dec. 30.

Mount Shasta’s first city council meeting of 2015 turned out to be quite the event Monday night, with several agenda items attracting public attention.

Approximately 65 community members attended, a fraction of whom remained for the entire five-hour meeting.

Councilors agreed during the meeting to hold a special election to fill the seat that was held by Tom Moore; they interviewed candidates for three open positions on the planning commission; and Caltrans gave a presentation on its preliminary brainstorming ideas about the SR 89/South Mt. Shasta Blvd. intersection improvement project.

The agenda item that drew the most attention from the public was the presentation of information related to the water meter replacement project.

Water meters and other concerns

Almost three hours into the meeting, citizens who had been waiting for an opportunity to speak became restless and mayor Geoff Harkness decided to alter the planned format of council member Jeff Collings’ informational presentation on water meter designs to allow some of the more elderly attendees to voice their concerns.

Using different words, the general sentiment of those who spoke was the same: they are worried that the new water meters will pose health risks related to increased RF waves. Several public commenters cited websites containing information about the health risks of smart meters, including increased risk of cancer and fires.

Collings explained that the risks being presented in the public comments were all related to power meters, not water meters.

“We are not putting in power meters,” Collings said during his presentation. He described that water meters are not attached to the home, therefore reducing RF exposure by distance. “The effects are virtually nil,” he stated.

He said water meters are connected to the ground and have no interface with the electrical structure of a home.

Collings described the city’s objectives to conserve water and empower consumers with data to make changes. He explained that smart water meters are more accurate than analog, and that they only need to be turned on in order to collect data, which could be as infrequent as once per month.

Smart water meters also eliminate the need for a meter reader to visit residences on a monthly basis.

Several public commenters disagreed that this was a benefit, implying that analog meters provide employment for meter readers.

In addition to concerns about RF accumulation, citizen Liz Winterhawk brought up the issue of water meters being hacked, but Collings said it can’t happen. He said citizens will be able to check their own water usage, and he assured the public that businesses, including Crystal Geyser, will have water meters, too.

Molly Brown asked, “Why can’t we just use analog meters?”

Harkness and Collings both said no decision has been made yet, and that balancing public opinion, health risks and tax dollars will be taken into consideration.

“Nothing has been set in stone,” Collings said, “but we do need to move quickly on it.”

At a special city council meeting in December, public works director Rod Bryan and PACE Engineering manager Paul Reuter presented city council with a design schedule and budget plan for the two Proposition 84 integrated regional water management projects that are 100% state-funded. Budget and project design plans were included in the meeting’s agenda packet. Council confirmed the plan Dec. 16, initiating a rapid schedule due to the short timeframe.

According to Harkness, the city is running on a tight schedule because the announcement for the grant award was made almost a month and a half late, without providing extra time for planning. The deadline for the completion of both the water line and water meter projects remains the same- October 2015.

Public comments not related to water meters included pedestrian problems on Mt. Shasta Blvd. near ACE Hardware. Benny Krieger of Mount Shasta suggested a pedestrian island in that location, as well as a non-smoking ordinance in the downtown area. Roslyn McCoy requested that citizens be alerted on water quality reports, stating that there was a water quality warning recently that could pose risks to citizens with compromised immune systems.

After a complaint from Lana Smith, owner of Dream Inn Bed & Breakfast, about the noise level coming from Handsome Johns bar, city manager Paul Eckert said the police are meeting with both parties, and the city expects to take action at some point. Eckert said that the planning commission might implement a noise ordinance.

Special election

The council voted unanimously to hold a special election on June 2 to fill the vacant seat left by the Dec. 30 passing of councilor Tom Moore.

Eckert said the council had the option to appoint a new member themselves or hold a special election, with an estimated cost of $8,000 to $10,000.

All council members said they favored a special election as the more democratic choice, giving citizens the choice on who will fill out Moore’s four-year term, which just began in December.

They also decided not to appoint an interim council member in order to avoid bias in the June 2 election.

The remaining four council members agreed they work well enough together without needing a fifth person to turn a vote.

Planning Commission

City councilors interviewed four of the five candidates running for three open positions on the Mount Shasta planning commission.

Incumbent Alan Pardee said he hopes to make changes in the general aesthetics of the downtown area, including planting some large trees and re-working parking ordinances.

Newcomers Roslyn McCoy, Emily Derby and Casey Clure were also interviewed.

McCoy expressed hopes for an elder care facility and group homes to maintain children in need of foster care.

Derby suggested wiring fiber optics in the downtown area to encourage business growth. She also proposed bringing specialty businesses into the downtown area, using FireWhat in Dunsmuir as an example.

Clure, who dedicated her interview to her mentor Tom Moore, recommended using Bend, Ore., as an example for bringing more economic development into Mount Shasta while preserving the small town atmosphere. She suggested focusing on the city as a good place for athletic training and maintaining a separation between the business district and downtown area.

The final candidate, Melanie Findling, will be interviewed at the next city council meeting on Jan. 26.

Caltrans ideas

Ideas presented by Caltrans for the SR 89/Mt. Shasta Blvd. intersection improvement project include increased lighting and signage. Additionally, four different plans for traffic lane designs were presented.

Council member Mike Burns asked about a bridge overpass for pedestrian traffic.

Transportation committee member Molly Brown suggested a high speed roundabout and expressed concern for cyclists.

The preliminary information presented by Caltrans did not address pedestrian issues.

Councilor Tim Stearns suggested further review and discussion of the plans at the next city council meeting.