With Rogers Communications Inc. planning to start building a tower on Channel Ridge this month, the Salt Spring Local Trust Committee (LTC) is still trying to get the company to meet with residents who remain opposed to the tower plans.
After the LTC voted to rescind a letter of concurrence they had initially given to the cell tower project, Rogers sought clarification from the federal regulator of telecommunications infrastructure — Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) — according to a June 7 email from Michael Krenz of Rogers to the Islands Trust. In the email, Rogers confirmed they have met requirements of ISED’s land use authority and public consultation processes, Krenz stated.
“As a result, we are commencing construction of the proposed site later this month . . . We want to deliver a reliable, consistent wireless experience to provide more seamless coverage for residents, visitors and emergency responders on Salt Spring Island and we value the input of Islands Trust LTC and community members,” Krenz wrote. “We look forward to working with LTC, staff and the local community on any future proposed wireless installations.
“Should Islands Trust wish to review their antenna tower consultation process in the future, Rogers would welcome the opportunity to provide input.”
A May 17 email to the Islands Trust from Ken Pungente, regional director at ISED, stated that “our office does not support your decision to rescind the concurrence.”
The only change between the LTC issuing the concurrence and rescinding it, Pugnente explained, is that the LTC adopted a new antenna siting protocol on Nov. 9.
“Given the date of the policy adoption, it is not to be retroactively applied,” he stated. “Our review of the conduct of the consultation process also found that Rogers was in compliance with [ISED’s] default process.” And the LTC’s July 27 decision to offer a letter of concurrence for the project “also implied its satisfaction with how the process was conducted and its conclusion,” he added. “In addition, SS LTC did not provide any other valid rationale to support the rescindment.”
In March, the LTC voted to rescind a letter of concurrence it had previously voted to provide, with trustee Laura Patrick opposed to the original issuing of the letter. Support from the LTC came after a joint effort by Rogers and the Capital Region Emergency Service Telecommunications (CREST) group to build a 40-metre tower behind Canvasback Place on Channel Ridge. The effort was the second by CREST to put up telecommunications infrastructure on the island, after a proposal for a monopole at the Salt Spring Legion Branch #92 failed.
People residing close to the tower have organized as the Concerned Residents of Canvasback, some of whom live within 50 metres of the proposed tower site, and assert that Rogers failed to adequately inform and consult them and followed a flawed process to get the tower approved. They have since last summer taken their concerns to the Islands Trust, the B.C. Ombudsperson and the municipal affairs ministry, and have hired legal counsel.
Speaking at the town hall portion of the June 14 meeting, resident Julian Clark said there is something “terribly wrong” about ISED giving the go ahead for the cell tower. At the meeting and in an email to the LTC, he urged them to inform ISED, Rogers and Onni Group, the owners of the land, that “development without the LTC and First Nations concurrence is illegal.”
Resident of Canvasback Place Diana Pattison also spoke at the meeting, urging the LTC to “please intervene and hold Rogers to account. . . . They cannot be allowed to bully their way around the cell tower siting process as they are aggressively attempting to do. Their approach shows a blatant disregard for the proper process and for the LTC itself,” she said.
Pattison urged the LTC to push for Rogers to meet with residents before construction begins.
William Steiner, who lives next to the tower site, said he has been amazed at the way Rogers has acted with a “heavy hand” towards residents.
“We only received one letter in the spring of 2021 saying this is all going to occur, and we had no chance to ever organize before you guys made your initial decision.”
Krenz was scheduled to appear at the June 14 meeting as a delegation, plans which were later withdrawn.
“They came to realize that this wasn’t necessarily a good format for them and that they needed to honour our request for that consultation to happen,” LTC chair Peter Luckham said.
Luckham reported that he had spoken with Rogers representatives, in a conversation where he drove home the message that the company needs to meet with the concerned residents, address concerns and explain the process the company has gone through.
“They have committed to me to do that, and that will probably happen at the end of June,” or early July he said.
Luckham first requested Rogers meet with the residents in a Nov. 29, 2021 letter.