Southern Oregon University will hold a public meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday to discuss a Verizon cell phone tower scheduled to be installed atop the school's Science Building. The meeting, to be held in the Rogue River Room of Stevenson Union, is intended to alleviate concerns about safety, transparency, lack of public input or electromagnetic radiation, an SOU spokesman says.

The tower will be screened by a wall that also hides a new heating, ventilation and air-conditioning unit, says SOU spokesman Joe Mosley, and it will not make any sound, unlike the HVAC that was previously opposed by neighbors.

The system will strengthen reception on campus and in that part of town, where the cellphone signal has “not been the best,” says Mosley. Verizon will pay SOU $18,000 a year in rent for use of the space.

Neighbors were of two minds, with supporters welcoming better cell phone coverage or waiting for proof of harm.

Carlie Irvin said, “There’s no scientific proof it harms my health. 'Til I get that, I’m indifferent. Plus, it improves my service, and I want that for my work and in case of emergency. I believe good service is good for our community.”

The Amerian Cancer Society (www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes) says "there is very little evidence" in support of the idea that cell towers increase the risk of cancer or other health problems.

The Cancer Society goes on to say, " ... the level of RF (radio frequency) waves present at ground level is very low — well below the recommended limits. Levels of energy from RF waves near cell phone towers are not significantly different from the background levels of RF radiation in urban areas from other sources, such as radio and television broadcast stations."

Thom Jones, who was notified about the tower, said, “It’s much ado about nothing. It’s not a critical thing. I appreciate people’s concerns, but it’s news to me, the radiation thing. There are so many other things to worry about, and this is not high on my list.”

His son, Bryan Jones, echoed the thought, saying, “Any correlation with risk is not proven. I may be a little bit concerned, but there’s not a lot we can do about it. They have to put it somewhere.”

But Steve Walters, the closest neighbor to the Science Building, has a far different view.

“It’s terrible,” he said. “It’s bad enough, the HVAC racket. The radiation is not good for humans to be so close. I use TV with signal through the air and it will probably screw that up.” He said he had not been notified about the installation.

Another nearby neighbor, Stella Maris, said she also had not been notified.

“I don’t want it," she said. "I’d rather not have that signal on my body all day long. I’m going to the meeting and let them know I’m against it.”

Ashland resident Rik Jensen, who does not live in the adjacent neighborhood, put out an email charging SOU with lack of transparency for sending out late notices and not notifying neighbors in a wide-enough area.

Verizon, or the installer Smartlink, had sent letters to neighbors, said Mosley, adding that SOU received only a couple of responses from neighbors who didn’t approve of it for reasons involving safety, noise and appearance.

“It is not a secret,” Mosley said. “All public notices have been given at every step along the way. It would be broad to say neighbors are upset. We don’t want to discount anyone’s concerns."

Mosley notes that students have not been given notice about the system, adding that no dorms are near it.

“We are guided by some pretty strong evidence (on the safety of cell towers) from the American Cancer Society. There is no evidence of any danger from cell towers.”

In the past six months, Mosley said, the proposal has successfully gone through all required procedures on campus and with the city Planning Department.

Verizon documents describe it as six-panel antennas with supporting base transmission equipment at ground level (behind landscaping). Calculations from Verizon note that the MPE (Maximum Permissible Exposure) at ground level ... is 1.6 percent of the MPE limit for the general population. It says that because power is under 2,000 watts, it’s exempt from environmental evaluation.

A registered professional engineer, B.J. Thomas, concluded, “Based on calculations, the proposed WCF (Wireless Communications Facility) will comply with current FCC and county guidelines for human exposure to radio frequency electromagnetic fields.”

Pointing to the emission level that’s 1.6 percent of the safe limit, Mosley said, “That’s why we feel it’s safe.”

— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.