By Ann McCreary
A Mazama woman has lost her appeal of an upgrade to a Verizon cell tower that she claimed emits radio frequency radiation that harms her health.
Carolyn Burkhardt, who owns a cabin near the Mazama tower, appealed a decision by the Okanogan County planning director to allow Verizon to upgrade the tower by adding additional antennae.
Burkhardt said she believed radio frequency (RF) radiation from the tower was causing her to experience a variety of health problems. She said she wanted the county to conduct a new State Environmental Protection Act (SEPA) checklist that includes an assessment of RF radiation within a half-mile of the cell tower before approving Verizon’s request for more antennae.
A SEPA checklist conducted in 2009 before the tower was installed did not include information on RF emissions. The 120-foot-tall tower was installed in 2010 to improve cell service to the Mazama area. It is next to the Okanogan County Fire District 6 station, and Verizon pays the district a monthly rent of $750.
Verizon applied to the county earlier this year for permission to upgrade the cellular facility, adding three more antennae to the tower, bringing the total to nine.
Dan Beardslee, the county hearing examiner, concluded that the upgrade requested is categorically exempt from an additional SEPA checklist. Beardslee also cited Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations that prohibit state and local governments from regulating wireless service facilities like the Verizon tower “on the basis of the environmental effect of radio frequency emissions” if facilities comply with FCC emissions regulations.
An engineer for Verizon said at the hearing that the RF emissions of the tower are and will continue to be in compliance with FCC regulations.