Public feedback open on CREST/Rogers proposal
Public consultation is now being accepting on an emergency communications and wireless communication tower proposed for Channel Ridge.
The joint project would see Capital Region Emergency Service Telecommunications Inc. (CREST) team up with Rogers Communications on a 40-metre tower supporting multiple antennae. The proposed location is part of the Channel Ridge development property owned by the Onni Group, and currently hosts a water tower and a TELUS communications tower.
CREST is the nonprofit company that delivers radio communications to first responder agencies in the Capital Regional District, including Salt Spring Fire Rescue and BC Ambulance Service on Salt Spring. The organization has been working to fill coverage gaps throughout the Gulf Islands in recent years.
CREST’s general manager Gordon Horth explained that recent work to install towers on other Gulf Islands has helped improve wireless communication coverage on the east side of northern Salt Spring, but there are still issues with the west side from Vesuvius and going north.
“If you have an incident at the ferry, for example, coverage is challenging both for people using their cell phones and for first responders on 911,” Horth said, noting RCMP use a different system because of those gaps.
CREST operators prefer to co-locate services with other partners when possible to achieve cost savings and cut down on the number of towers and poles in the visual landscape. Horth said when they investigated the possibility of using the existing Telus tower, however, they found it was not adequate structurally to take on all the equipment that Rogers and CREST need. The two organizations also explored whether they could use any other existing structures, including towers and rooftops, but were similarly unsuccessful.
Horth said mature fir trees in the area reach around 25 metres in height. He doesn’t believe the tower will be too obtrusive in the portion that extends above that.
Approval for telecommunications infrastructure is a federal matter done through Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISEDC). In addition to the public consultation component, local governments are requested to provide statements of concurrence or nonconcurrence if ISEDC advances the application.
CREST’s previous application to install a monopole at the Salt Spring Legion branch to meet another service gap in Ganges was opposed by many people in the community, and a petition against the plan attracted some 200 signatures. Islanders who spoke at an Islands Trust town hall sessions outlined profound concerns about the potential health and environmental risks posed by any level of electromagnetic radio energy, as well as security concerns related to CREST itself.
The Salt Spring Local Trust Committee asked CREST to explore other options at a May 2019 business meeting, and the file has gone no further since then.
Similar concerns have been raised about the new tower project, including by the local grassroots group 5G Free Salt Spring. The group believes fibre optic cable is the best and safest option.
“Fibre wired to the premises is safe, fast, energy efficient and secure, and is the gold star in connectivity. It is the best way to connect emergency service providers when they are not in the field. With the Connected Coast project bringing fibre to four ports on our island, now is the time to focus on building a network that is locally controlled. It is not the time to support Big Telecom,” group member Suzanne Smith said.
Smith suggested CREST use the funds it had planned for its Ganges project to build its own tower on Channel Ridge and that any new infrastructure be limited to emergency transmissions only.
Health Canada has set the limits for exposure to electromagnetic energy under its “Safety Code 6” guideline. Rogers attests in the notification package the proposed radio antenna system at Channel Ridge will at all times comply with those limits.
Members of the public are invited to provide comments about the proposal until close of business on Friday, April 16. For more information, contact Tawny Verigin at Cypress Land Services, 1-855-301-1520 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments can also be sent to Islands Trust planner Geordie Gordon at 250-538-5601 or email@example.com.