Borough approves permit for cell tower on north end

A conditional-use permit for construction of a new cell tower at the north end of town was approved by the planning and zoning commission last Thursday, after a consulting health physicist working for the developer testified that the tower’s radio signals would not pose a health risk.

“I’m a board-certified health physicist, I’ve been an expert in this area for a whole long time,” said Andrew Thatcher, of Lakewood, Washington, introducing himself to the commission June 10. “I was the expert for the state of Washington for about 20 years.”

The cell tower, proposed by Florida-based Vertical Bridge on behalf of Verizon Wireless, would be installed next to the city’s solid-waste transfer site. Vertical Bridge would lease the land from the borough.

The metal-lattice tower would be 150 feet tall, and placed within a 50-by-50-foot fenced area. According to Carol Rushmore, the borough’s economic development director, the nearest residences to the site are about 500 feet away, but there is a residential lot where a home could theoretically be built 50 to 75 feet away.

Though some members of the public have questioned the risks of radio frequency radiation from cell antennas, no one spoke against the tower permit at the commission meeting.

There is nothing to worry about, Thatcher said. The radio frequency waves that would come off Verizon’s 4G antenna atop the tower would emit much less energy than visible light, ultraviolet light or X-rays. The frequencies coming from the tower would be the same as what are used for FM radio and TV stations, he said.

Furthermore, anyone living near the tower would be exposed only to miniscule amounts of the radio frequencies, he said.

“My calculations are the nearest residents, the maximum amount of their exposure is about one microwatt per centimeter squared,” Thatcher said. “That’s about 3,300 times less than the public limit. … They’re much smaller than your Wi-Fi network in the room you’re in right now, they’re much smaller than just about any other source we’re talking about.”

Thatcher said his calculations are the “worst case,” explaining that people will be further shielded from the tower’s frequencies when they are indoors, as well as by trees and other obstructions.

In its application to the borough, Vertical Bridge said other cell providers could add antennas to the tower. Thatcher said that would not change his health assessment much. Adding two more cell antennas would only raise overall exposure a little bit.

After some discussion by commission members, the permit was approved. The borough assembly last month rezoned the property near the trash station to allow cell towers as a conditional use, subject to planning and zoning commission approval and any permit conditions.

The borough’s permit for Vertical Bridge requires the applicant to conduct a study to ensure the tower will not interfere with radio station KSTK’s signal from its transmitter atop the solid waste transfer station building.

The conditions also require that the tower’s generator for backup power be as muffled as possible, and fencing around the tower obscure the facilities from residences.

The development will include a 20-foot-wide access and utility easement built to the property from Third Avenue, which is the road to the trash site.

“I’m old enough to remember when microwave ovens came out and were placed in the home,” Commissioner Don McConachie said before the vote. “Everybody was afraid it was going to kill people off in their kitchens, and that turned out not necessarily true,” he said.

“When cell phones first came out, they were mentioned in the study, put them up to your ear and you’re going to get brain cancer. That turned out not to be true,” McConachie said. “The due diligence is done by these companies, and they try to make sure that all the safety standards are met or exceeded. I applaud them and I wish them good luck.”

The new tower is intended to improve cell coverage to the north end of Wrangell Island and Lower Stikine River.


Reader Comments(0)