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Phone antennas keep rising

TribTown • Neighbors uneasy about poles and toppers on side streets
by:  JIM CLARK, Demand for cell phone service means more antennas will be going up around town, like this new tower in Arbor Lodge, which is much taller than the wood utility pole it replaced. The city of Portland is conducting a survey about placement and possible alternatives.

The folks who live near the corner of North Wilbur Avenue and Dekum Street in Portland were especially unhappy last November when a work crew replaced a 35-foot wood utility pole with an unpainted 55-foot metal pole set in a concrete pad.

The new pole is not only taller than the one it replaced, but wider, too.

'It just sticks out like a sore thumb in the neighborhood,' says Chris Duffy, chairwoman of the Arbor Lodge Neighborhood Association.

David Soloos sympathizes.

Soloos, program manager for Portland's Office of Cable Communications and Franchise Management, oversees antennas on utility poles in the streets of Portland.

He says he has received more than 100 calls and e-mails in protest of the new antenna in Arbor Lodge.

And he says he has talked with Portland General Electric and T-Mobile about improving the antenna, or at least painting the pole.

But of greater concern, Soloos says, is an anticipated increase in demand for cell phone antennas. Many of them, he says, are likely to be placed in residential neighborhoods.

Before it's too late, he'd like to hear what Portland residents think about that, and what kind of accommodations residents think should be made by the cell phone firms and the utility companies that supply the poles.

The need for the antennas isn't going away, Soloos says. Eighty percent of Portland residents have cell phones. That comes to about 400,000 cell phones in the city.

Soloos says about 30,000 Portland residents have only a cell phone - no land line - and that more Portland 911 calls are now made by cell phone than by land line.

In addition, Soloos says, two new cell phone companies, Cricket and Clearwire, have entered the Portland market in the past year, with their own need for antennas.

And new technologies that are allowing cell phones to perform functions such as video and Internet access are about to add to the demand for new antennas with increased capabilities.

Soloos estimates there are about 800 cell phone antennas in Portland, about 150 of them on cell towers that are up to 150 feet high.

No new cell towers have been built in the past four years in residential areas, Soloos says, primarily due to a change in the city zoning code in 2004. But that has increased demand for other sites, including the tops of utility poles.

About 600 cell antennas are set on private-property rooftops and water tanks, with deals made between the cell companies and property owners. There are about 50 on utility poles in streets, Soloos says.

The cell phone antennas are allowed to reach 20 feet higher than the top of utility poles in residential areas, and 30 feet higher on commercial streets. The city receives a fee of about $250 a month from the cell phone companies for each antenna placed in public right of way - an annual income of about $150,000 that goes into the city's general fund.

Soloos says he expects about 30 new applications for cell antennas on utility poles in the next year, and he needs to know what residents think of the antennas.

That's why the city has decided to survey residents on their preferences - where they'd like the antennas placed and how they'd like them to look.

Soloos says the city has received more than 550 survey responses so far, and most respondents say they would like the city to continue its policy of putting the antennas on rooftops before they resort to utility poles.

Some people, Soloos says, have said they are concerned that the antennas and their radio frequencies might be affecting their health. Some health studies have suggested there might be health effects, including cancer, while other studies have refuted that.

But federal law, Soloos says, prohibits the city from denying an application for an antenna based on health concerns.

The folks in the Arbor Lodge neighborhood already have made their feelings about the antennas clear, Duffy says.

'A lot of people have said they could live with taller poles or with metal poles on the arterial streets if it means keeping these cell phone poles out of the side streets,' Duffy says.

'We need to figure out how these things can go into our urban environment in the least obtrusive ways,' Soloos says.

To participate in the city survey on cell phone antenna placement, visit www.portlandonline.com and look for the heading 'Cell Tower Alternatives,' or call 503-823-5359.

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