By EMELIE PEACOCK and GAIL SJUBERG
Some Channel Ridge residents and supporters are continuing to block access to a site where Rogers wants to build a wireless cellular and emergency communications tower jointly with the Capital Region Emergency Service Telecommunications (CREST).
The first protest action happened on July 26. Julian Clark, spokesperson for the group of neighbours organized as the Concerned Residents of Canvasback (CRoC), reported that around 15 people picketed an access road to the site of the future cell tower. The action prevented contractors from accessing the site until the RCMP arrived. Officers informed the group they would be criminally charged should they continue blocking a public access road.
The protest continued on the side of the road, Clark said, as protesters informed those passing through that they believe the construction is illegal. The neighbours, some of whom would live within 40 to 100 metres of the tower when built, assert that Rogers gave incomplete and inaccurate information to the Salt Spring Local Trust Committee (LTC) regarding the public consultation they undertook in advance of the tower approval. They also allege Rogers has ignored First Nations archaeological features in the area and an Islands Trust Channel Ridge master plan covenant on the land.
Neighbours have continued to block the site in the morning, but work has been done at other times when the road is clear. A larger group gathered on the morning of Tuesday, Aug. 2 and had lengthy, amiable conversations with the independent contractor from Alberta hired by Rogers to do the installation.
Clark said residents have been trying to follow up on two motions the LTC passed at a July 12 meeting regarding the construction of the cell tower. The first was to have a lawyer draft a response to a May 17 Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) letter giving Rogers the go ahead to build the tower despite the LTC rescinding their support for the proposal. The second motion was to have LTC chair Peter Luckham contact Rogers representative Michael Krenz and request a suspension of construction activities until communication between Islands Trust legal counsel and the parties had happened.
Luckham sent a letter to Krenz on July 20 requesting a suspension of “any development activities associated with the construction of the wireless telecommunication site at Channel Ridge” . . . “pending the outcome of Islands Trust legal counsel review of materials associated with the application.”
“Clearly, they don’t care what he has to say,” Clark said.
Clark and the concerned residents are also alleging a conflict of interest exists related to ISED’s May 17 letter asserting construction of the tower could proceed even with the LTC having withdrawn their letter of concurrence for the project. The letter signed by Ken Pungente, regional director for ISED, and addressed to Luckham stated that “our office does not support your decision to rescind the concurrence.” He added that no change in circumstances had happened since the LTC issued the concurrence except for a new antenna siting protocol that could not be retroactively applied. Pugente stated that their review of the consultation process found Rogers in compliance with ISED’s default consultation process.
“In addition, SS LTC did not provide any other valid rationale to support the rescindment,” he stated.
Former ISED employee and now Rogers employee Michael Krenz sought clarification from ISED regarding the withdrawal of the letter of concurrence. The concerned residents assert Pungente did not follow a regulated federal dispute resolution process when he informed the LTC the tower build could go ahead. Clark said the group has asked François-Philippe Champagne, the federal minister of innovation, science and industry, to review Pugente’s actions and to instruct Rogers to cease construction.
In response to the protest and the concerned residents’ claims of a conflict of interest, a spokesperson with Rogers emailed the Driftwood stating that the telecommunications company is “committed to working with the Salt Spring Island Local Trust Committee and local residents to improve coverage in the area.”
“This tower will provide more seamless, consistent coverage for residents and visitors on Salt Spring Island, as well as for emergency responders,” wrote senior media relations manager Nilani Logeswaran.
Her response did not address the allegations of a conflict of interest levelled by Clark and the concerned residents group.
Logeswaran also forwarded a note about the future use of the tower by CREST and a letter of support from RCMP Superintendent Mac Richards, assistant district officer with the RCMP’s Island District, to the Islands Trust’s planning department. Richards noted the tower at Channel Ridge would have a “direct impact” in ensuring safe working conditions for RCMP officers stationed on and responding to events on the island.
Support from local first responder groups was received when the tower was first brought before the LTC.
The RCMP did not respond to a request for comment about the protest action as of publication time.
“We will continue to protest to educate people, we will continue to press our local Trust committee to do what they are charged with doing,” Clark said. “This is a much bigger issue . . . than a cell tower. We’re now talking about a poor corporate citizen coming to Salt Spring and not fulfilling our requirements and just bullying their way forward.”