AT&T has applied for a 150-foot tower on north end of town outside city limits
By Stephen Floyd, Ashland.news
Ashland is getting closer to an ordinance regulating 5G cell towers as a proposed antenna outside the city has residents pushing for action.
Though the council was expected to consider the first reading of a telecommunications ordinance during its Dec. 20 meeting, Acting City Attorney Doug McGeary said he was waiting on a first draft of the ordinance from attorney Andrew Campanelli, of Merrick, N.Y., a specialist with whom the city is negotiating a contract for this particular issue.
McGeary said, though he had prepared a draft ordinance based on rules in place elsewhere, Campanelli said he preferred to create the draft from scratch and would need about a month to prepare it. McGeary said this is an improvement over the eight months he would need to prepare a similar document, given the other priorities that require his attention, but added it was the council’s discretion to wait for Campanelli or move forward with the draft McGeary had already prepared.
“Frankly, I think my version is fine enough, as far as what it is, but if that doesn’t satisfy you, you can go ahead and go with an attorney from New York,” he said.
Councilor Gina DuQuenne said she preferred Campanelli’s approach and believed an ordinance crafted specifically for Ashland would allow the city to get things right the first time. She referenced an Oct. 18 meeting when the council discussed a proposed ordinance establishing a permit process for cell towers built within city rights of way, and said the proposal felt incomplete and raised more questions than it resolved.
“I want to do it right, and I’m not saying necessarily it was wrong the first time, but it wasn’t clear, had too many gaps in it,” said DuQuenne.
Councilor Stefani Seffinger said there have been many moments in the past when the council had an opportunity to pass telecom regulations. Even though early on they were told municipalities had little opportunity for input on how or where cell towers and similar devices were installed, she said that is no longer the case.
“The world has changed, and people’s concerns and what cities can do has changed,” she said.
Mayor Julie Akins said deeper talks on the issue would be more appropriate for an agenda item during a future meeting, as the proposed ordinance had not been scheduled for discussion that night. The council is expected to again take up the issue Jan. 3, 2023.
Proposed tower fuels regulatory push
The Dec. 20 meeting saw input from residents who have long voiced support for a ban or moratorium on 5G technology in Ashland, particularly in light of a proposed 150-foot 5G tower at Medella Bison Ranch on Jackson Road just outside Ashland city limits. An application for the tower is currently under review by Jackson County.
The application was submitted Sept. 16 on behalf of AT&T and remains under staff review as of Friday, Dec. 23. Public notice of the application was distributed to nearby residents Dec. 5 with a deadline of Dec. 19 for written comment, while a future public hearing is expected to be held if the permit receives staff approval.
Miriam Reed, a local writer and researcher, told the council Jackson County can expect a “brouhaha” of residents organizing against the proposal, which she said the county could have avoided if they had a robust ordinance in place regulating 5G technology. Reed said Ashland has an opportunity to get ahead of such a dilemma through proactive regulation of 5G installations and thanked DuQuenne and Steffenger for their support of the pending ordinance.
“If we want to keep Ashland a tourist destination, we don’t want 5G antennas on every other lamppost, we don’t want refrigerator-sized antennas outside restaurant windows,” said Reed. “We want to keep Ashland a beautiful place — destination for tourists — and not turn it into an electronic jungle, which could happen if 5G moved in, and certainly the present ordinance would allow that to happen.”
Reed and Kelly Marcotulli, a community activist and retired teacher, have been vocal opponents of 5G in Ashland, and were among residents who lobbied the council in October to hire Campanelli to draft a telecommunications ordinance, citing his nationwide involvement in legislation and litigation related to cell phone towers. Marcotulli said Dec. 20 that people who are electrosensitive feel powerless to engage with everyday society as technology encroaches more and more into their lives, and that telecommunication rules passed in the ’90s, or that apply to large cities, shouldn’t apply to Ashland.
“We are not part of San Francisco’s and LA’s and New York’s landscape,” she said. “We are different here, and we are a gem, and I don’t believe that 5G is included in that picture.”
Opposition to 5G questioned
Amid strong outcry from opponents of 5G, resident Ian Cropper spoke in favor of incorporating 5G technology into Ashland’s infrastructure, calling criticisms about health risks and telecom bullies “straw man arguments.” A software engineer and lifelong Ashland resident, Cropper said he spoke on behalf of a “less-organized, less-coordinated majority of Ashlanders” who believe reliable cell service should be a high priority for both residents and tourists.
“I am curious what the endgame is and how easy it will be to untangle ordinances that are overly restrictive on wireless technology being introduced to the city when the only thing being provided is more modern wireless technology, and that is indeed the thing that we are completely restricting,” he said.
Cropper said once-innovative technologies like 1G and 2G cell service have been discontinued, and 3G is on its way out, and a day may come before long when cell providers are using 5G at a minimum. He also said the opposition to 5G does not match Ashland’s progressive values and ignores how heavily people depend on modern wireless communication.
“Please, before you enact some overly-restrictive ordinance against modernity, consider the vastness of the people that depend on wireless communications and how that number is only going to increase with time and how much it will affect our future for years, if not decades, to come,” he said.
Marcotulli said Croppers’ comments were “a great insult” and that opposition to 5G was neither a conservative nor a progressive issue and affected the lives of all Ashland residents, noting nearly 600 people had signed an online petition against the Medella Bison Ranch cell tower and around 250 people had written to Jackson County in opposition to the proposal. She said the highest priority to consider was the potentially harmful impacts of a form of radiation that is not fully understood.
“All that matters is how we feel about being exposed to radiation that we’re not even aware of how powerful it is,” she said.
Jan. 6 update: Corrected to say city of Ashland is negotiating a contract with attorney Andrew Campanelli, not that it has a contract.