The regional district is reversing a decision that denied the approval of a proposed communications tower in Moyie following a public backlash, according to board chair Rob Gay.
Gay, who also serves as the director for Area C, which includes the Moyie area, says he was flooded with emails after the RDEK voted not to proceed with the replacement of an existing older tower after hearing pushback from community members at a public hearing.
Initially, there was a public outcry from the Moyie community over the replacement of the tower, which is located near a children’s park, because of health concerns over microwave transmissions.
“So what we did today is we said lets go back to a second public hearing and see if we’ll get a view from the border community that we obviously didn’t get the first time,” said Gay, who noted he received over 70 letters and emails after the initial RDEK decision was made to halt the process to construct a new tower.
Acknowledging the public’s concern about the existing tower being located in a children’s park, Gay said he’s been in talks with Columbia Basin Broadband Corporation and a private landowner nearby about having the tower on their property.
The tower, which will feature upgraded equipment, will be used for internet access and improved communcation with emergency services.
Because of line-of-sight issues with another tower and the surrounding mountainous terrain, the Moyie tower needs to be relatively close to the existing location for maximum coverage of the community, said Gay.
“The citizens, even the folks who said we don’t want the tower put in the current location on the Moyie Community Association land, would rather see this tower somewhere else,” said Gay, “but somewhere else has to be very close, because the way the mountains are, you can’t go down the road six kilometres and get the same coverage, so the very close is on some private land and Columbia Basin Broadband and myself have been working with the private land owner to see if we can get an easement.”
Having the tower located on the identified private land, which is already has the proper zoning, would be the ideal first choice given the desire to move the tower away from the children’s park, said Gay
However, should talks break down with that private land owner, the RDEk should have a backup plan to replace the tower in it’s existing location, which then requires a public hearing, he added.
“If we can move it near the community, not in the playground, it seems like everybody would be happy,” said Gay. “But if that doesn’t work out, the fall back, what we’re calling our option two, is to go back to the current old tower is and put a new tower in that location and that’s what this next public hearing would be, to see if we can rezone it, because where the current tower is, it’s not zoned for the type of tower.
“On this private property we’re looking at, it has the zoning already for a communications tower, so it’s about the zoning, that’s what this whole issue’s around.”
Complicating the issue is a looming deadline at the end of March for funding from the federal government that would cover half of the $300,000 price tag for the new tower.
Because of that March deadline, the RDEK is taking a somewhat unusual route by having a public hearing on Plan B (the existing tower location) if Plan A (the tower on private land) doesn’t work out.
“The problem is the money that we’re getting for this $300,000 tower; half of it is coming from the federal government and their program ends at the end of March,” said Gay, “and our processes take about two months by the time it comes to the board, public hearing, back to the board, so we want to have Plan B in our back pocket should Plan A not work, we’re ready to go, so that’s why we’re not doing it in maybe a more logical step.”