Emotional Hearing on Smart Meters Ends in Activist’s Collapse
by Peter Shelton
Dec 22, 2011 | 1461 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A two-hour-long discussion of the possible harmful effects of smart meters at the regular Ridgway Town Council meeting last Wednesday ended abruptly when digital metering opponent Jean McDonnel collapsed in the Community Center hallway and was transported by ambulance to Montrose Memorial Hospital. (See related sidebar.)

McDonnel, along with several other activists, had asked council to “adopt a position,” in the form of a letter to San Miguel Power Association, requesting a moratorium on further installations of the co-operative utility’s TWACS (Two-Way Automatic Communications System) meters.

Sixty meters have been installed to date, according to SMPA’s Bill Riley, though the system has yet to be turned on. Council has no authority to stop the new equipment going in; McDonnel just wanted help in asking for a moratorium.

Council heard a presentation from SMPA, which maintains the new meters emit no more radiation than the old analogue ones. Then it heard from McDonnel and, via speakerphone, a colleague of hers, an engineer from Arizona, who maintains the TWACS system is potentially dangerous to sensitive individuals.

The two sides appeared to be at an impasse, each with its own set of (mutually contradictory) facts.

Mayor Pro Tem John Clark commented, “I think this has been blown up by so much fear. San Miguel Power is not the enemy; they are us. I’m totally frustrated.”

“We have that in common, John,” McDonnel said from the audience.

Mayor Pat Willits expressed frustration, too. Following McDonnel’s taking ill, and the eventual reconvening of the meeting, he described the hours of research he had done to try to understand the issue. He had even sent “some of Jean’s material to a PhD engineer for review. I have no doubt there are people in this country and in this county who are electronically sensitive. And the situation is probably going to get worse,” given the proliferation of radio frequency devices, like cell phones, in our lives.

“That said,” he continued, “there is hardly any evidence that TWACS causes any of the problems that [the engineer on the phone] claims. There are no definitive cause-and-effect studies. I would oppose a letter opposing a smart meter moratorium.”

In the end, council agreed to ask Town Clerk Pam Kraft to draft a letter asking SMPA to consider two subsidiary issues. One, to provide a more affordable opt-out option. (SMPA has proposed a $25 per month surcharge for customers who don’t want the new meters.) And second, in light of privacy concerns, to “respectfully request” SMPA specifically decline to enable their smart meters to read electrical usage by individual appliances inside a home.

The letter will be reviewed at the January council meeting.


Pete Blair of Blair and Associates of Cedaredge gave Ridgway’s town government the good news last Wednesday night: that “overall the Town of Ridgway is in really good financial shape. Better shape than you were in 2009.”

Blair noted end-of-year fund balances that were up considerably. The general fund balance was up $40,000 compared to budget. The water fund was up by $80,000. Only the sewer fund saw a shortfall, compared to budget, of about $8,000.

He said that at the end of 2010 the town had $1.2 million in investments and cash. “Pretty safe investments,” he said, in response to a question by council.

“You’ve got about five months of reserves in your general fund,” Blair said. “$270,000 more than you had in 2009… [Town Clerk] Pam [Kraft] does a really good job as far as the books… I know what you guys are going through in terms of tight budgets. I’ve just been elected to our Delta County School Board, and we’re going through the same budget woes.”


The Ridgway Town Council on Wednesday (Dec. 14) passed by acclimation its 2012 Budget as presented by Town Clerk Pam Kraft. “A round of applause,” Mayor Pat Willits called, “for all you ladies,” indicating Kraft, Town Manager (and Planner) Jen Coates, and Town Engineer/Public Works Director Joanne Fagan, who together willed the budget document into form.


Public Works Director Joanne Fagan recommended to Town Council last Wednesday that Ridgway apply for available grant money from the Colorado River District. The funds ($350,000 is available across 10 Colorado counties) would be used for improvements to the town’s water storage facility at Lake Otonawanda on Miller Mesa.

“It’s better than a 50-50 match,” Fagan said. “We would be asking for something in the $25,000-30,000 range. My time [on the project] would be the match.”

Town Manager Jen Coates said the money would be used for aspects of the project that Fagan can’t do. Prepare a geo-technical report, for example. And to subcontract work on the endangered species section of the required environmental report.

Mayor Pro Tem John Clark made the motion, and all on council agreed to proceed with the grant application.

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