Clackamas County’s recent approval of an AT&T cell phone tower just outside of Oregon City has met with a bevy of backlash from homeowners surrounding the would-be 150-foot structure.

Neighbors are concerned the tower would tarnish an otherwise beautiful farm-haven, subject them to health effects caused by radiation exposure and benefit a registered sex offender. Thus, they filed an appeal to the Land Use Board of Appeals. Referring to the case titled “Morton vs. Clackamas County,” Cindy Morton said when she spoke to AT&T a while back, “they assured us they were going to be good neighbors.” However, in the eyes of Morton and 52 others who signed the petition to appeal the proposal at 12663 New Era Road, AT&T has been anything but. In order to avoid LUBA proceedings, Morton sought mediation with AT&T, but she says they ignored her.

Ken Seymour, the RF Engineering manager for AT&T, says AT&T will decline to comment on the issue until after the LUBA proceedings. In its application, AT&T justified the proposal by saying it was the best place to locate the tower in order to improve cell-phone reception in the area.

Jen Reed, neighbor of the potential tower’s residence, is concerned with the health effects of living next to the tower.

Reed used to live under a cell-phone tower, and within a couple of years, her brother and father were diagnosed with cancer.

Later on, she developed cancer. After being a part of a study at the Hanford Nuclear Site in Washington, it was determined that she was a victim of radiation drift.

“Now when I hear this coming into my neighborhood, I’m terrified. The hell that we went through over that, I will never fully recover from it. I lost part of my face and part of my neck,” Reed said.

Sheila Hornocker is also petrified by the notion that this tower might be constructed.

“My husband had brain cancer. My son has Ollier disease, which is a rare form of brain cancer. The minute I can come up with $100,000, I’ll be gone because I don’t want to be exposed to that,” Hornocker said.

However, like Reed, Hornocker is fearful her home’s value will plummet.

“We can’t sell our house. No one is going to buy it. The only thing we can do is raise the money and look for another property. It’s really sad.”

State Senator Alan Olsen believes the tower will be an eyesore, but wouldn’t cause adverse health effects.

Though Olsen doesn’t claim to be an expert on the topic, he said, “If you put a cell phone next to your ear, it’s sending a signal to the tower. So having a cell phone next to your ear is the same as standing right next to the tower.”

The National Cancer Institute’s website states: “Studies thus far have not shown a consistent link between cell-phone use and cancers of the brain, nerves or other tissues of the head or neck. More research is needed because cell-phone technology and how people use cell phones have been changing rapidly.”

The NCI website also explains that radio frequencies are a form of ionizing radiation, and that exposure to ionizing radiation can cause cancer.

“In the slim chance that these towers cause an additional risk for cancer and we have an opportunity to put it further away from people’s homes, shouldn’t we err on the side of caution?” Morton asked.

Reed believes the government is farther behind the times with regards to radiation.

“The U.S. government was in total denial of the harm of cigarette smoke before they finally realized we have a problem here. This whole radiation thing is pretty much in that same scope of reality for them,” Reed said.

If the proposal survives the LUBA proceedings, the AT&T tower will be placed on the property of Barbara Theroux, who cohabitates with registered sex offender Stanley Riedel, 62. Riedel was convicted of two misdemeanors and three felonies in 1992 including rape and using a child in the display of a sex act, according to the state of Oregon’s sex offender inquiry system. The page says he “paid his victims for explicit photographs and favors.” However, he has been off police supervision since 1997 according to Clackamas County probation officer Brent Taylor.

Because AT&T would be using her property, Theroux will receive compensation from AT&T, and she did not respond to calls for comment.

Morton has a problem with a registered sex offender possibly indirectly benefiting from the tower’s construction.

“He should get money to sit at home and surf the Internet? What, because he can’t get a good job because he’s a convicted felon?” Morton said.

Olsen thinks that the sex offender’s crime is an unrelated issue to the proposed cell-phone tower.

“He’s obviously done his penance. He’s allowed to be back in society,” Olsen said.

The appeal was filed on March 19, and the county has to respond. Once Clackamas County sends county records to the Land Use Board of Appeals, first Morton will issue a brief, then the state agency will present a brief, followed by a reply brief issued by the county. Afterward, oral arguments will commence.

Olsen believes the neighbors have a right to be mad, but might be fighting a losing battle.

“Can the county force AT&T to move? I don’t think so because it fits all of the land-use criteria,” Olsen said.

“The best solution is a change in land-use policy. The problem is land-use policy is hard to get through legislation,” Olsen added.

AT&T provided Olsen with one reason why they want the tower in the designated spot. Olsen talked to an AT&T lobbyist and they told him there is one square mile where the tower will fit and the proposed spot fits that criterion.

“The county says it is a zoning issue. You can’t put a cell phone tower on EFU zone property if there is an available FF10 parcel,” Morton added.

Reed says the county made the argument that they are trying to protect big agricultural properties.

“We own agricultural properties too, and it might impact us worse. We have local Realtors’ testimony that property values would drop 20 percent,” Reed said.

“I feel like it was a done deal before we ever knew about it,” neighbor Norma Erkenbeck said.

But the neighbors don’t just have gripes. They also have a solution.

If they had it their way, the tower would reside on the property of neighbors Orvall and Grace Cade. The tower would be placed on the highest spot on their property about a half a mile away from the Cade home.

Grace Cade is especially worried about the aesthetic drawbacks of living next to the approved tower.

“It sits right in the middle of New Era road, 200 feet in front of a 700-acre parcel that we have and is a short distance from our driveway,” she said. “Every time we drive in, we will look at that.”

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