Riondel residents are protesting the location of a planned Telus cellphone tower they say will be a blight on the idyllic town.
Telus is preparing to construct a 30-metre tower at 315 Fowler St. in response to what the company says have been requests for improved wireless services.
On that point there is no opposition. But residents who live in the East Shore village of just 253 people, according to the 2016 census, want Telus to place the tower further away from their homes.
Ben Johnson, who has lived in Riondel since 2007, said the tower will stick out in the central location.
“It is kind of an eyesore to have a [30-metre] steel tower right next to a bunch of houses and a pub,” said Johnson, who helped organize a demonstration Friday next to the site.
“If you are thinking from an aesthetics point of view, Riondel is in the middle of a forest. It’s a quiet little village. I think part of the charm is it’s kind of retro and it has a lot of natural beauty.”
Johnson’s cell phone reception meanwhile cut out several times during his conversation with a Star reporter.
Harreson Tanner has lived in the Riondel area for nearly 30 years. His home is next door to the proposed tower site, which he wants moved outside the town.
“We’re just trying to make a statement here and Telus, they have communicated nothing,” said Tanner. “You know, they are a huge corporation and we know they’ve got billions of dollars so if they have to move it down the road it’s not really a money issue.”
Telus has towers throughout the West Kootenay, but also has a history of backing down when faced by public pressure. The company ditched a plan to put a tower in Winlaw following local protests.
Telus first approached Riondel residents last June as part of a public consultation process required by Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada’s Antenna Tower Siting Policy.
That policy, which along with Health Canada’s Safety Code 6 radio frequency guidelines regulates where cell towers can be placed, says companies must consider community feedback and attain municipal support.
Johnson said half the people who attended last summer’s meeting with Telus did not approve the proposed location. In a statement to the Star, a Telus spokesperson said it received approval from “the relevant authorities” on Sept. 19 after meeting with residents.
The spokesperson added there is no set completion date for the tower. “Construction on it has been paused while our resources are supporting healthcare facilities around the province in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Regional District of Central Kootenay Area A director Garry Jackman, whose electoral district includes Riondel, said one issue faced by the tower’s opponents is the village isn’t zoned. That in turn means Telus doesn’t require a land-use change from the RDCK, which would have required a public hearing.
“But this is not that case,” said Jackman. “It’s not zoned. Even if it was zoned, they wouldn’t be asking for anything different.”
Johnson said he also has concerns about the health impact of having the tower in Riondel.
Safety Code 6 sets the limit for human exposure to radiofrequency fields in the frequency range from three kilohertz to 300 gigahertz, which includes cell phones and towers. The current limit set by Canada and also used in the United States, European Union and elsewhere is 50-fold less than the threshold for potential health effects.
But Johnson is critical of those standards, which he says are lax and backed by industry research.
“Most of the people concerned here were parents as well, and we just don’t want the tower in the location Telus is planning to put it,” he said.
A Telus-commissioned report on the proposed tower requested by Jackman, which is attached to the bottom of this story, shows radiofrequency emissions will be just 2.56 per cent of the Health Canada limit at two metres above the roof of the nearest building.
Another house 25 metres away will be exposed to the highest emissions from the tower, but even that is just 2.85 per cent of the Safety Code 6 limit according to the report.
If the tower were to be relocated on nearby land owned by Teck Resources, Jackman said it would still require a stronger signal.
“This is still an irrelevant discussion in terms of Health Canada, because Telus is well below those limits,” said Jackman. “So I won’t be able to help people who don’t want to go with or accept Health Canada’s guidelines.”
Jackman allowed for one possibility that might derail Telus’s plans.
The company said it contacted 48 houses last year and asked for comment. It was obligated to reply to those comments, but Jackman said some residents say they have not received any further communication despite being obligated by federal regulations to do so.
“If Telus’s land agent failed to close the loop on communications, then I think there’s a discussion to be had about public process.”
But even if the tower is safe and eventually constructed, it will still change the look of Riondel.
Jackman said the plan for the tower is to have it set back from Fowler Street behind some vegetation. A 2012 federal report on the placement of antenna towers meanwhile found examples of nearby residential property values dropping, but it also stated those concerns should not be weighed in planning debates.
“Generally, land-use planning authorities are not required to take such impacts into account when siting urban and rural infrastructure that concerned members of the public may find objectionable,” the report found. “Almost every planning decision will produce positive and negative impacts upon the value of land located in the immediate vicinity.”
That doesn’t appease Tanner, who may have to live next to a new unsightly neighbour.
“The main concern is just how ugly this thing is right in the middle of town.”
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