Phone tower discord

By Ashleigh Fielding | posted on August 22, 2019

FRUSTRATED Robinson residents are fighting for a 40m-high telecommunications facility proposed for their suburb to be knocked back by City councillors amid concerns of property devaluation and radiation exposure.

At an informal community meeting last week, residents from and near Home Road aired their apprehensions about a Telstra phone tower planned for 60 Home Road.

The tower would form part of Telstra’s 4GX network and prepare the Albany region for the new 5G network.

Residents at the meeting denied Telstra’s claim they had reported issues with the current Telstra service in Robinson and now stand firm that they do not want a tower built near their homes.

They are worried a phone tower will affect their ability to subdivide their properties in the future, will ruin their water and nature views, and have unknown, adverse health effects on young children.

Suzanne Moore of Home Road lives with her two grandchildren and is concerned a nearby tower would expose them to radiation.

“We basically moved here for the children because we didn’t want to be with things in the city and put up with the radiation and towers,” she said.

“Plus, there’s no way we’ll be able to subdivide with that view – when we look out on our main verandah, we would look directly at the tower – and our resale value is going to be hugely affected, we think.

“And I don’t think there’s enough known about what all the radiation is going to do to young people, whether it’s happening in their minds, their brains or physically.

“It’s just too big a risk not to fight for their future.”

Dan Toovey of Roberts Road, whose backyard shares a fence line with 60 Home Road, echoed Ms Moore’s worries.

He believes the 5G network is “unproven” and that Telstra is “still” undergoing studies into it.

“We’re elevated 25m above ground level, so we’re only about 10m below the main components of the phone tower infrastructure,” Mr Toovey said.

“And we look over the harbour for our view – that’s the value of our property.

“That tower will be right in the line of sight.”

Mr Toovey is working with the City of Albany to set up a crane at the same height as the proposed tower, so others can gauge how he believes the tower will negatively impact the area.

He is frustrated at what he calls a “lack of consideration” coming from Ashleigh and Colin Dowsett, the landowners of 60 Home Road.

“I think it’s a bit shallow for one person to take a money grab and look after their own pocket when it’s affecting the nearby community and maybe the wider community,” Mr Toovey said.

Telstra Regional General Manager Boyd Brown reassured Mr Toovey and Ms Moore that studies had been conducted into the amount of electro- magnetic energy (EME) emitted from phone towers.

The environmental report for the proposed tower, prepared on behalf of Telstra by Visionstream, states the maximum EME level calculated for the proposed site would be 0.36 per cent, 246m from the tower.

The maximum exposure allowable under the Australian standard is 10 W/ m2 (100 per cent).

This makes the maximum EME exposure expected at 60 Home Road to be below one per cent of the legal limit.

“Telstra has conducted extensive EME testing on the 5G network and found the EME levels to be similar to 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi and well below the EME safety limits,” Mr Brown said.

“5G wireless networks are designed to be very efficient and minimise EME; this means that both the network and device power will be low, which means low levels of EME on 5G.”

Mr Brown said Telstra relies on the advice of a number of health authorities, including the World Health Organization, International Commission for Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection and the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) for overall assessments relating to health and safety.

Dr Ken Karipidis, Assistant Director of ARPANSA’s Assessment and Advice Section, explained how radiation affected the human body.

“The 5G network will initially use frequencies in the current mobile phone network, then move to higher frequencies where the depth of radio frequency EME penetration into human tissue is short,” he said.

“Consequently, this energy is absorbed mostly within the skin where surface heating is the predominant effect.

“At these higher 5G frequencies, the limits in the ARPANSA safety standard are set to prevent excessive heating at the surface of the skin and the eye.”

Dr Karipidis said no health effects were expected from radio frequency exposures below the limits set in the ARPANSA standard.

“In our community today, there are a range of devices and applications that utilise higher frequencies, for example security screening units at airports, police radar guns to check speed, remote sensors and in medicine,” he said.

Albany real estate agent and principal of Ray White Albany Graham Walker questioned Mr Toovey and Ms Moore’s concerns that a phone tower would affect their properties’ resale value.

“For a proposed phone tower to be considered it is obviously required to improve the service to customers, as the provider would not spend the money if they didn’t have to,” he said.

“I don’t know of any evidence to suggest that property values would change for the better or worse.”

Professor Paul Flatau, Director of the Centre of Social Impact at the University of Western Australia, could not directly comment on Robinson residents’ concerns without a thorough investigation, but agreed it is “vitally important” a Social Impact Assessment was brought into the urban planning process.

“Importantly, all relevant stakeholders should be consulted, and social impact assessment management plans should clearly outline how any adverse social impacts are mitigated,” he said.

“The social impacts of interest in an urban planning context can include dimensions such as services, housing, health impacts, the environment, employment, social connectedness, community spirit and social cohesion.”

City of Albany CEO Andrew Sharpe confirmed the matter would go before Council once the planning assessment process was complete, and that planning officers would “apply due process and consider all aspects relating to the application, including potential impacts and taking into account the community’s feedback”.

Home Road landowners Ashleigh and Colin Dowsett did not wish to comment on the proposal.