Council to look closer at issue of birds and smart meters

A well-attended Utilities Committee meeting followed by continued discussion from residents during the public comment portion of the city council meeting has led the council to put the issue of smart meters and their possible effects on wildlife on to an upcoming committee of the whole agenda.

Led by retired engineer Paul Ouellette, who first brought the issue to the council two weeks ago, several residents - and even two people who drove down from Kirkland to talk about the issue  - asked the council to consider a moratorium until more can be learned about the effects of the meters on small animals such as birds.

Ouellette, who has been feeding birds at his Rolling Hills home for several years, noticed this month that his feeders were not going down at all since the city install the smart meters in his neighborhood.

The smart meters, attached to city water meters, send out a pulse of information at 900 megahertz four times a day to a centralized collector, located on a water tower in the neighborhood.

But because only one meter can send the information at a time, each meter in a neighborhood has to wait its turn to send the information to the controller, located in Rolling Hills on a water tower creating an almost constant wave of the pulse streaming out from an area.

Ouellette is convinced it is this pulse that has driven the birds from his neighborhood because the timing is so perfect. He has also asked for further technical information on the meters, which he said are different from the ones used by Puget Sound Energy on gas and electric meters.

No empirical evidence on the effects of the pulse on birds is available and the Federal Communications Commission has deemed the devices safe. Others have suggested a new predator in the area or other natural phenomenon affecting the animals.

One resident in a neighborhood in which smart meters have been installed called the Renton Reporter to say there were plenty of birds in her yard. Councilmember Terri Brieri also said she has a smart meter installed and still has many birds.

But others, including some at the council meeting, reported the same lack or winged wildlife noticed by Ouellette and his neighbors.

Ouellette and others again asked the council to consider a moratorium on smart meter installation until more information is available. He and others also suggested simply turning off the smart meters for a month or so to see if the birds come back.

Councilmember Greg Taylor said during the utilities committee meeting that he too would like to see a little more research, though he said he believed the government research indicating the meters were safe.

"You could very well be on to something," he said, but added, "Maybe not."

Utilities Committee Chairman Ed Prince said he was unaware of the bird issue before Ouellette brought it forward, but said he too was concerned because the citizens are concerned.

"I'm interested in learning more," he said. "I think we're going to find out more about this."

During the council meeting, Council President Randy Corman said he too was "intrigued" by the issue of the disappearing birds and admitted he too was partitally "skeptical" about the meters. Corman said the council was only a week into this topic, however, and was "still processing" the information.

"I haven't had time to study it the way I like," he said.

The council agreed to add the topic to a future Committee of the Whole meeting for follow-up, though no date has been announced yet.

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