The water tower emblazoned with the words “Eureka Home of the Loggers” may soon became the site of a new Verizon Wireless cell phone tower that would fill a coverage gap in the area. Nearby residents told representatives of the company today that they have health concerns related to the project and would prefer it not to be in their area.
“It’s supposed to be a certain distance from schools and those sorts of facilities,” said Marilyn Field, who lives in close proximity to the tower. “But there’s a Boys & Girls Club right there.”
The main concern of a half dozen residents at an informational meeting with Verizon Wireless at the Eagle House was the exposure residents, particularly young ones, would have to radio frequencies. The residents mentioned there was a cell phone tower already in that area. That tower is owned by another company that doesn’t serve Verizon customers, said Andrew Lesa, a representative of Epic Wireless, which was hired by Verizon to identify, acquire and work on cell phone tower sites.
Verizon is looking to build a cell phone tower at the site because it identified a gap in coverage in the Henderson Center area, Lesa said. The current towers are getting exhausted as more residents move to the area and additional users try to use the network.
“The data that we’re using now with emails and (point-of-sale) systems and just internet searching — what winds up happening is a cell site starts to be overloaded or exhausted,” Lesa said. “And so sometimes we need a second site to offload that. In this case, we’re both offloading existing sites and also increasing coverage.”
The Federal Communications Commission, the federal agency that regulates radio, television and other communications, allows for a certain level of radio frequency exposure, but residents said they were concerned that the study the agency did on radio frequency exposure was done 23 years ago. There is no scientific consensus and little concrete research on the impact of radio frequency exposure to the human body.
Lesa said he would look into the issue of radio frequency exposure and provide updated information to the residents. In order to be approved, the project still needs approval from the planning commission and City Council.
Verizon tried to build cell phone tower sites in the area in the past, Field said, and used a cadre of lawyers to combat resistant residents, leaving a bad taste in the mouths of area residents.
Sean McLaughlin, executive director of nonprofit community media organization Access Humboldt, said there would need to be more local safeguards in place to ensure Verizon was a good neighbor. At the same time, McLaughlin said Verizon’s work on the tower could open up opportunities for access to fiber-optic internet, which delivers faster speeds than cable and dial-up internet.
Verizon is required to use fiber at its cell facilities, Lesa said. Though the cell phone company doesn’t have any plans to extend that service to the surrounding area, Lesa said there is the potential to work with an internet service provider, such as Suddenlink Communications, to offer the service through the tower.
“We find ourselves oftentimes kind of spearheading the improvements to local community utilities because it is incredibly expensive to bring fiber optics into a neighborhood,” Lesa said. “I can’t speak to where fiber is at this particular instance, but I will tell you it will be at the property line at the time of construction.”
Sonia Waraich can be reached at 707-441-0506.