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Speak up on cell phone tower standards

Posted: August 27, 2012 - 12:37am

The Planning Commission meeting scheduled for Tuesday includes consideration of an application for another cell tower. The Assembly and the Planning Commission both have directed staff to explore the City and Borough of Juneau’s need for a uniform telecommunications plan. That need was identified four years ago and still no tangible results have been made public. At its last meeting, the Assembly was told there has been much back-and-forth between staff and a professional consultant who specialized in telecommunications plans. A telecommunications industry representative, Kevin Martin of Powder River Development, expressed concern in January 2009 that Juneau did not have a telecommunications plan in place because it forces the industry to spend much more time at much greater cost presenting speculative proposals to our planning commission and defending against the occasional appeal rather than knowing what is permissible and designing systems that fit the city’s plan. The city manager and the city attorney both assured us that a final report should be available in September. If that is the case, shouldn’t Juneau wait one month to see what the new standard will be, prior to granting any new permit?

The application up for discussion can be found at  http://www.juneau.org/plancom/pdfs/20120813112051.pdf. This is a relatively small mono pole, well off the beaten path. By itself, a reasonable person on the street may say this addition to our infrastructure will do much good and very little harm. But many people in our community have expressed concerns over the health impact of electromagnetic frequencies. Some staff, planning commissioners and assembly members have demonstrated confusion over what right the public has to be concerned or to ask for clarity over health impacts. The public has every right to be concerned and to ask for evidence of public safety. There is much anecdotal evidence to support reason for concern. I do not presume to know the answer to this question, and that is why I want to hear from professionals who have no financial conflict of interest. A consultant who knows their way around the industry but is paid to represent the best interests of Juneau and her citizens, not big business, can help us to make a plan that will give us the services we desire and protect our quality of life now and into the future.

I especially appeal to the flying public to speak up. There is another tower somewhere in the permitting stage for Spuhn Island. The FAA has given its blessing for this tower, which is directly in the flight path to the north of Juneau International Airport topping out near the 325-foot elevation. FAA requirements are designed in Washington, D.C. around the needs of commercial air transport; they do not give proper consideration to private and Part 135 commuter air travel and to the changeable weather conditions here in Southeast Alaska. I am confident that local pilots will become well informed and will adapt, but am concerned about infrequent visitors. 

The bottom line: Every new tower sets a precedent for the next one. We keep experimenting, testing the waters, but we will not know what the impacts are until they are bad. Public safety is not something I am comfortable experimenting with.

I am sending this letter to CDD and the Planning Commission for inclusion in the record as public comment in the Aug. 28 packet, as well as to the Juneau Empire. I am challenging every individual who has concerns to do the same. I know it sometimes seems pointless to spend one’s limited time and expend one’s limited energy to share thoughts and concerns with City Hall; too often it seems like no one is listening. While individuals who take action cannot know how much influence they may have in the final analysis, for those who do not act, their level of impact and influence is assured.

Thank you for your consideration and for every action you take to make Juneau a better place for us all.

• Soon to be a former CBJ Assemblymember, Danner first became visible in city matters when she joined her neighbors in an appeal over a cell tower permit in 2009 on the other side of the valley. During her three years of assembly service, she has focused much time and energy on making sure the public is well informed.

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