Islands Trust Urges Rogers to Meet With Residents Over Cell Tower Location
The debate around a proposed emergency and wireless communications tower is not over, as local politicians hope to get Rogers and concerned residents near Channel Ridge to meet.
The joint Rogers Communications and Capital Region Emergency Service Telecommunications (CREST) tower proposal has gone through a federal approval process and was also given a statement of concurrence by the Salt Spring Local Trust Committee (LTC) in July. Yet concerns from residents which arose after the letter of concurrence was issued must be addressed, said LTC chair Peter Luckham.
Most of the concerns from residents of Canvasback Place, some of whom live within 40 to 100 metres of the proposed 40-metre tower, “came late into the decision making, and that’s unfortunate, but is also indicative that folks in the neighbourhood didn’t hear about it,” Luckham said.
The LTC was advised that Rogers undertook public consultation, yet local resident Julian Clark called the consultation “woefully inadequate” and trustee Laura Patrick voted against issuing the letter of concurrence. Trustee Peter Grove has also since raised concerns that the tower application may have been misleading and due process on consultation may not have been followed.
“We are concerned about the points raised by the residents . . . it seems apparent to the LTC that more communication is necessary with neighbouring property owners regarding the placement of the telecommunications facility,” Luckham wrote in a letter to consulting firm Cypress Land Services, which works with Rogers.
Luckham said he is now waiting to hear back on this request to have Cypress host a public meeting to answer questions around “fulfillment of the requirement to consult” and minimizing impacts of the placement of the tower.
Luckham clarified that at the time they issued the letter of concurrence, Salt Spring’s LTC did not have a policy on the siting and use of telecommunications towers. While a model antenna strategy was developed by the Islands Trust and while neighbouring Galiano Island has their own strategy, Salt Spring had not amended nor adopted the Trust’s model strategy. The default consultation procedures of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED), the federal body which deals with telecommunications licensing, would apply.
In letters to the LTC, residents said they support the building of a CREST tower on the island. It is the proximity to their homes and it being close to an already existing TELUS communications tower that they oppose. Clark stated that the closest home is 43 metres from the proposed tower site, and there are at least 10 homes within 300 metres of it.
Two of the residents closest to the site, Connie Nichols-Ledger and Frank Ledger, wrote that they fear the effect of radio frequency waves on individuals with medical equipment such as pacemakers, as well as the potential devaluation of their homes should the tower be built. They suggested alternate locations on Channel Ridge which are undeveloped.
Health aspects of antenna sitings are not something within the LTC’s ability to decide on, Luckham noted, with standards set by Health Canada.
Luckham said it’s important not to create false expectations around what will or will not be done about the tower.
“What we need to do is determine whether or not Rogers is able to answer concerns that have been raised by members of the public to the community’s satisfaction,” he said.
One future possibility is negotiating the actual siting of the tower, which would happen between landowners Onni Group and Rogers.
The LTC, “if it became apparent that there was a lack of consultation to the community,” could also rescind the letter of concurrence, Luckham said. He stressed that it’s too early to say, and that this option has not yet been discussed by the LTC.
ISED confirmed that while it’s not typically done in these kinds of situations, the LTC can rescind a letter of concurrence.
“If you believe that the LTC based its decision on inaccurate or incomplete information then you may be able to consider this action, but if not then you may have to accept the scenario and consider how things might be handled differently in the future,” ISED noted in communication with Islands Trust planners.
A letter of concurrence is seen as the final step of a “fully complete and acceptable consultation,” ISED stated, “and the proponents would have the authority to start planning the construction of the facility.” During planning the LTC can communicate with the proponent and ask about “possible changes to the structure, location, etc.” ISED added, yet the LTC is under no obligation to do so.
Channel Ridge is CREST’s second attempt at locating a tower on Salt Spring Island in recent years. The first proposed location at the Salt Spring Legion branch, meant to improve coverage in Ganges, faced strong opposition. CREST was strongly encouraged by the LTC and community members to identify other locations, Luckham said, and “did a pretty broad sweep of the island to identify locations.”
With coverage gaps on the west side of Salt Spring from Vesuvius heading north, the tower is meant to improve emergency communications for CREST, which delivers radio communications to first responder agencies, including Salt Spring Fire Rescue and the BC Ambulance Service.
Partnering with Rogers allows cost savings and cuts down on the number of towers and poles in the visual landscape, CREST’s general manager Gordon Horth explained in April. Using the existing TELUS tower was not possible, Horth explained, as it was not adequate structurally to take on the equipment needed by CREST and Rogers.