Interim Public Works Director Forbids Climate & Energy Manager Discussing Telecom and Dig Once

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• In Bellingham,

At first, I was excited to speak with the city’s new climate and energy manager Seth Vidana in an attempt to help him make the obvious connections between technology and the impact it has on the environment. Specifically, I wanted to talk to him about the benefits of a local Dig Once Policy and the amount of energy wireless communications use.

He told me that while he was personally interested in wireless energy usage, its impact on the environment, and Dig Once, etc., he has been forbidden by his boss, Interim Public Works Director Eric Johnston, from discussing these issues or their effects on the environment with me or anyone else. He also said that all communications related to these issues have to go through Eric Johnston.

Since Mayor Seth Fleetwood has literally been to my house for a Dig Once presentation and seemed to agree that it makes sense, I’ve put a call in to him.

Also interesting, I was told by members of the Climate Action Task Force (CATF) that when they asked for public feedback, Dig Once was outlined to them as an environmental issue. Even so, Task Force members were not directed to discuss these issues.

You may ask, how are these environmental issues?

Dig Once assures that we are doing the most work in the most efficient manner: preparing our city for the future, while attracting clean, next-generation, high-paying jobs, and enabling fuel-saving technology like telemedicine, telecommuting, and online education. At the same time, we can assure that we do as little damage to the environment by digging up our roads and land as infrequently as possible. This has other advantages like not disrupting traffic any more than necessary and keeping our city flowing for our citizens. A Dig Once policy ties fiber-optic cable installation into any other infrastructure project that requires excavation, like transportation projects, water and sewer upgrades and repairs, renewable energy-based public power, and more.

On the topic of wireless networks, we currently use about 43 terrawatts of energy on wireless communications nationwide. A terawatt is equal to one trillion (1012) watts. While wireless may be convenient, from a performance standpoint, it is inferior in many ways to the fiber-optic cable that backs it up. The many performance shortcomings of wireless technology, as well as its health concerns, are covered here.

With 5G we expect the energy consumption of wireless tech to go up to at least 60 terrawatts. So another 17 terrawatts! A modern nuclear power plant produces only about 1 gigawatt—one billion (109) watts—and most of the power plants in Washington use natural gas. We should note that wireless equipment also does not last nearly as long as fiber-optic cable. FIber cable can last 100 years, with no need to replace the fiber. For upgrades one would instead replace the equipment hooked up to it. Wireless tech is lucky to last 15 years.

So, we can see that this unnecessary, underperforming wireless technology will have many adverse effects on the environment, while comparatively, fiber uses very little energy and just keeps getting better. It’s an issue the COB should be taking seriously. The fact that Eric Johnston is refusing to make the connections between tech and the environment, and not allowing Seth Vidana to do so, can only be bad for the citizens of Bellingham in the long run. This is a topic that Vidana should be learning about and incorporating into his recommendations.

All we are asking is that we finally be allowed to make a presentation on Dig Once to the council. A second presentation, from the many citizens concerned about 5G, would also be helpful. Each group should be allotted at least 40 minutes for their presentations. This administration cannot say it’s an environmental administration if we don’t consider the impact of technology on the environment.

Finally, it is time for the COB to establish a citizen technology committee. It would go a long way to avoiding misunderstandings and helping the city make the best choices. In all of the years I’ve been working on broadband issues in Bellingham, I have never understood why the COB is so afraid of having open, transparent conversations about technology. It’s time.

About Jon Humphrey

Citizen Journalist • Bellingham • Member since May 23, 2017

Jon Humphrey is currently a music educator in Bellingham and very active in the community. He also has decades of professional IT experience including everything from support to development. He [...]

Comments by Readers

Dianne Foster

Mar 08, 2020


I’ll volunteer to help.   I’m a cancer patient,  and don’t want 5G -  whether Verizon or Huawei,  in my neighborhood.  It’s ironic that citizens get 3 minutes to speak,  while corporations get 30 minutes.    Who’s paying the taxes anyway?


Jon Humphrey

Mar 08, 2020

Thanks DIanne, you’ve always been great about this issue. One of the items I, and others, have presented to the council is from the recent NRDC case. Here is a snippet of hope from it. Most importantly, it shows that our lawyers and public wors director are wrong when they tell our mayor, council and citizens that there is nothing they can do. There is. 

“Q:  What can local governments do?
A:  Local governments can condition approval for new 5G cell construction upon compliance
with state and federal requirements for environmental review. While a local government cannot
add new requirements for environmental review, it can require proof that the necessary
federal review has been done. Given the mounting evidence that the FCC’s radio frequency
limits are inadequate, such federal review should include an evaluation of the adequacy of these

Again, no government agency has done adequate testing for safe wireless exposure levels. In simpler terms, they’re reolling this out with no real testing. The FCCs standards are over 24 years old and were inadequate in the first place. Conversations with the schools show that they have done no wireless testing and the IT Director has blocked all attempts for independent testing to take place, using numbers added up on paper to make the false claim that the schools are “meeting WHO guidelines.” A mother did sneak a meter in one of the middle schools and found that it is at least 6 times above the safe standard for wireless exposure. She pulled her child out when she started throwing up from EMF/EMR exposure. We’ve been having conversations with Greg Baker about this, but his IT director keeps feeding him industry-backed, inaccurate, documents about safety.  

A link to more information and what you and other citizens can do.

You can demand that the schools and Western allow an independent firm to do wireless safety testing. We found a reputable company in Seattle that does this. You can demand that the same testing is done all around Bellingham and that the council reverse its decision to allow the deployment of small cells, and other wireless tech, until that testing is complete. 

You can come to council meetings and spread awareness.  The biggest issue with broadband in Bellingham is that the industry has captured our government, and has allies like Eric that are willing to do everything from hide public records to bully their employees into making sure that no transparent conversations about technology take place. 


B. Sadie Bailey

Apr 24, 2020

Excellent article and points made. Thank you for all the work  and data gathering you have done on this. I wish we had someone like you in the San Juans! I don’t get here often enough to read, but I’m grateful that NW Citizen exists. In looking at your most recent article and in reading some of your past articles, I can see your commitment in doing this work and getting the information out; people need to know the truth and you’re getting that out there. 


Jon Humphrey

Apr 24, 2020

Thanks for your comments. I am concerned about all of the problems 5G presents as well, especially the harm to biological organisms. It seems silly to take a chance on 5G when we have a perfectly safe tech out there that will more than meet all of our needs in fiber. For example, fiber is needed to backup all modern communications. So if we’re running fiber to wireless small cells right next to your home or business, why not ditch the small cells and just hook up to the fiber instead? Remember, to get peak performance out of 5G, since many of the waves are very short, you have to be very close to the small cells anyway. So close in many cases, you might as well just hook up to the fiber. I love the San Juans, and am very impressed with the fiber I used on Orcas.  It’s also annoying how the industry keeps comparing wireless or copper cabling to fiber. It’s like comparing apples, oranges and pears. They’re all fundamentally different in how they handle communications. Fiber is, of course, the most efficient. 

Still, this article was largely about a problem we’ve had for at least a decade with the COB and Whatcom County governments. They have no problem censoring people on behalf of the big telecoms via upper echelon staff. Eric, and before him Ted Carlson and IT director Marty Mulholland, have pulled me into closed-door meetings to make it clear that they wanted us to shut up and go away. Eric even started yelling at me. I’m so glad I pay my taxes and some of it goes to their high salaries. There will be no transparency in Public Works or IT as long as Eric and Marty are there. Last week Eric started playing his games again, claiming that he wasn’t even aware of the public fiber movement. Here’s the full update. Sadly, I think he will try every dirty trick in the book to try to keep our area from having the fiber it needs, especially during times of crisis.  

Here is a great Washington State website that talks about just about every aspect of 5G. 

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