EDITORIAL: Verizon Cell Tower Controversy Unfolding in Pagosa Lakes

EDITORIAL: Verizon Cell Tower Controversy Unfolding in Pagosa Lakes

Read Part One

I contacted Jason Nichols and Diana Luppi, two of the organizers with the Pagosa Power group, to ask whether they wanted to weigh in on the PLPOA-Verizon tower re-zoning request that will be addressed by the Archuleta County Planning Commission tonight at 6pm at the County Administration Building, 398 Lewis Street. (The meeting is open to the public.)

Mr. Nichols and Ms. Luppi, as grassroots organizers, have a slightly different take on the issue.

Clearly, the Pagosa Lakes Property Owners Association (PLPOA) administration and elected PLPOA board members and their appointed committees view the proposed installation of a 70-foot Verizon cell tower on PLPOA-owned “Open Space” as a beneficial concept, in an area where “service interruptions such as dropped calls can be regular occurrences,” according to a letter by PLPOA General Manager Chip Munday, (featured in today’s Daily Post.)

The agreement with Verizon Wireless will also be financially beneficial to the Association, we are told, bringing in perhaps $400,000 over the 25-year course of the lease (according to a rough estimate offered by the PLPOA administration.) That comes to maybe $16,000 a year, contributed toward what is currently a $2 million PLPOA operating budget.

The objections I’d seen, as submitted in writing to the Archuleta County Planning Commission, concerned the impropriety of placing an industrial installation on what many neighbors believe to be dedicated “open space” intended for recreational use.

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An email from Jason Nichols of Pagosa Power addressed, among other concerns, unresolved questions about the health hazards posed by high-frequency radio emissions in a residential neighborhood.  Do high-frequency, digital radio signals — of the type coming from, say, a Verizon Wireless cell tower — threaten human and animal health? Mr. Nichols believes the threat is real.

From his email:

These are my concerns I would like to bring up at the meeting on Wednesday.

1. This is a recreation area the proposed, and disguised tower is going into, which will continue to be used for recreation. Just because the FCC and Federal Government do not recognize non-thermal health effects, does not mean damage is not being done to all of us, including children and sick individuals. There are thousands of studies proving how dangerous this technology is, but officials and corporations are willfully blind to this because they are making so much money. No tower should be placed anywhere near where people gather or live.

2. Smart meters need towers to collect the data for the utility. Smart meters do not work in rural, mountainous areas, and LPEA’s horrible decision to jump on the smart meter band wagon for money, does not justify putting more towers up. Fiber optic cable is a much faster, more reliable, and safe solution. Nothing wireless works well here — we’re in the mountains.

3. The Pagosa Springs SUN article made it sound wonderful that calls won’t be dropped so much during busy tourist seasons with this tower. The tourists don’t live here, we do. Last time I checked they are here primarily to enjoy nature and outdoor activities — they’re not here for our cell phone reception. There are personal range extending devices people can purchase themselves if they have a problem with coverage.

Again, we are in the mountains, you can’t expect 5 bars everywhere.

4. I moved here for the same reasons many others have. It is a big reason people vacation here too. I came to escape the city, and everything that comes with it. The crowds, traffic, noise, pollution, WIFI and cell towers everywhere, crappy chain restaurants and big box stores. I came here to find peace and enjoy my life. I came here to be happy.

Now smart meters have moved in, more cell towers, Walmart, Starbucks … “The City” is trying to follow us here, and local officials just want the money. This is an amazingly beautiful, pristine area we have here, and if it is destroyed to pander to tourists, corporations, and greedy local officials, the tourism will just go somewhere else.

Mr. Nichols makes some excellent arguments for protecting the essential simplicity and access to nature that exist here in rural Archuleta County — and not in the Big City. And I believe he speaks for many Pagosans, when he says he came here to get away from that same Big City.

But sometimes we want to believe we can have our cake and eat it too.

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Yesterday morning, I attended a joint meeting of the Town Council and the Board of County Commissioners, where items of shared interest and concern were being discussed by the two elected boards. Three key projects were on the agenda: Early Childhood Education (a fancy name for Daycare), Affordable Workforce Housing, and Broadband.

During the discussion of Broadband, County Commissioner Steve Wadley made the following statement:

“We need to see [high-speed Internet] as just as necessary as running water. If the community is going to be vibrant, and attract the kind of people we want to attract, we have to have high-speed connectability.”

Heads were nodding in agreement, around the table.

I wonder, however, just exactly what kind of people Commissioner Wadley is referring to? The “kind of people we want to attract”?

And who is the “we” who want to attract them?

A few minutes later in the meeting, Commissioner Michael Whiting invited local businessman Mark Weiler — President of Parelli Natural Horsemanship — to address the joint meeting.

Mr. Weiler: “I was invited to the [Community Development Corporation] meeting and the topic was broadband communication. I personally believe [broadband] is the lifeblood of every community, going forward. It is the highest need we have here — more so than affordable housing, more so than everything else.”

At the CDC meeting, Mr. Weiler told us, “it was wonderful to watch the discussion.  A beautiful two-hour discussion about ‘How do we make the community more vibrant?’  And one of the things knocked around was, we need a catch-phrase.”

Mr. Weiler suggested that the Pagosa community might marshal itself behind a clever marketing slogan: “One Gig, Everywhere in Archuleta County.”

To put that number into perspective, I operate a daily news website using an upload speed of about 1Mbps. “One Gig” is 1,000 times faster than the Daily Post’s current Internet connection. Mr. Weiler would like us, as a community, to make that speed our Number One Goal.

Speaking very personally, my number one goal at the moment is more responsive government.

See you at the Planning Commission meeting, at 6 o’clock?

Read Part Three, tomorrow…

Bill Hudson

Bill Hudson founded the Pagosa Daily Post in 2004 in hopes of making a decent living writing about local politics. The hope remains.

EDITORIAL: Verizon Cell Tower Controversy Unfolding in Pagosa Lakes, Part Two

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