Feds say process on Rogers tower complete despite LTC opposition
The latest effort by the Islands Trust to relocate construction of a Rogers telecommunication tower has been sidelined by federal regulators, who relied upon a strict reading of their own policy and refused to start a dispute resolution process.
Salt Spring Island’s Local Trust Committee (LTC) had tried to trigger the procedure April 3, passing a resolution outside of their regular meeting schedule and asking staff to request an impasse with the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) regarding trustees’ “rescission of concurrence” for a Rogers cell phone tower proposal on Channel Ridge.
Trust regional planning manager Chris Hutton sent a letter to ISED Coastal Offices STS-Western Region director Ken Pungente the following day, reiterating the LTC’s rationale for having last year rescinded its 2021 statement of concurrence with Rogers’ application — including “multiple, substantive and material” areas where the LTC believes Rogers did not follow its protocol.
Salt Spring trustees have also said Rogers “falsely asserted they had fulfilled the protocol, provided inaccurate information, and omitted material information in their application, which are valid reasons for rescindment of the concurrence decision.”
Pungente’s April 27 response did not address these matters. ISED’s position, according to Pungente in his reply, is that Rogers completed the required consultation process for the site because it satisfied ISED’s default public consultation process — and that technically, the dispute resolution process applied strictly to conflicts between tower proponents and land-use authorities during an ongoing public consultation.
“Since the relevant consultation process was successfully completed in the summer of 2021, ISED will not take steps to commence a Dispute Resolution Process in accordance with your request,” reads a letter from Pungente sent to Islands Trust planners.
For nearby residents, the response seems suspiciously familiar. In 2022, in what was seen by Channel Ridge advocates as an overreach, Pungente had written the LTC to advise that ISED “did not support” trustees’ decision to rescind concurrence with the application for the same reason — saying it found Rogers had been in compliance with ISED’s default process.
That felt preemptive, according to resident Julian Clark, and telegraphed an early unwillingness on the part of federal regulators to fully involve the LTC as the local land use authority.
“There was no basis in the regulations for ISED to involve themselves in the matter [in 2022],” said Clark, “because neither Rogers nor the LTC had invoked the dispute process.”
LTC chair Tim Peterson agreed the unfolding of events was frustrating, partly because while all parties supported improving service for cellular phone users and the Capital Region Emergency Service Telecommunications Inc. — whose emergency operations would also be augmented by a new tower — and a fulsome public consultation had clearly pointed to the community wanting it located elsewhere, the previous LTC’s concurrence seemed to end the matter for federal regulators.
“Ultimately, it’s the feds who are in control,” said Peterson, adding that the other local trustees hadn’t yet indicated whether they planned a further LTC response. “It seems that once you’ve made a concurrence, that is pretty much the end of it as far as the regulators are concerned.”