The board at the Cowichan Valley Regional District has decided to reverse its earlier decision and will now provide a letter of concurrence to Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada to allow a 63-metre high cell tower to be built in Sahtlam.
After a lengthy discussion at the board meeting on July 13, and with input from representatives from Telus Communications which is proposing to build the cell tower, the board decided to support the placing of the tower on private land on Tipperary Road.
Only Alison Nicholson, director for Cowichan Station/Sahtlam/Glenora in which the tower is proposed, and North Cowichan director Kate Marsh voting against it.
The board decided at its meeting on June 8 in a tight 8-7 vote to deny a request from Telus to send the letter of concurrence to the federal Ministry of ISEDC.
In a staff report, Telus said it has been working to find a solution to deliver better cellular coverage along Cowichan Lake Road as many residents in the area have been complaining about a lack of service.
The communication company added that the demand on the network has also been rising due to enhanced levels of remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Shawnigan Lake director Sierra Acton said at the meeting on July 13 said this is the second time Telus has proposed placing a cell tower in the Sahtlam area.
“Telus is a business and I don’t know how many times we can expect them to do this,” she said.
“I’ve had a lot of emails and phone calls on this issue by people who were upset by this board’s decision [at its meeting on June 8] to vote against sending the letter of concurrence to the ISEDC.”
The Radiocommunication Act authorizes the ISEDC to give approval for the installation of cell towers and antenna systems, and regional governments do not have authority to override ISEDC’s decisions.
But ISEDC has its own guidelines that service providers must follow as part of its application process to place towers, including consultations with local residents and encouraging municipalities to get involved early in the siting process.
Nicholson said the issue is very controversial in Sahtlam and the rest of her electoral area.
But she said she doesn’t have enough information to understand whether the people in the area who want the cell tower put up are prepared to have it in their own backyards.
“I think for that reason, it’s very important for the CVRD to develop a cell tower siting policy,” Nicholson said.
“We need to go out into the community to have a conversation to understand what the issues are so we can come to some mutual agreement on what a policy would be that would be in the best interests of the community. We just don’t have that yet so I’m not supporting this proposal at this time.”
Telus representative Brian Gregg questioned whether, after two years or work by Telus, it would be appropriate for the CVRD to stall an in-stream application for the letter of concurrence to the ISEDC just before or during a decision-making process, adopt a new policy or protocol and then try to apply it to a proposal that was already adhering to a clear process that was already in place.
“While I can understand the desire to have a good process and perhaps a new policy, I think it’s noteworthy that what we are trying to do here is really listen to the community,” Gregg said.
“This proposal is driven, in the first place, by long-standing requests for service in the Sahtlam area. We acknowledge that our first proposal at 5571 Hanks Rd. resulted in a lot of push-back from the community and we listened to that and self regulated so we cancelled that proposal before requesting any decisions from the CVRD.”
Gregg said it took a year to finally settle on the new proposed site on Tipperary Road.
He said Telus settled on the new site after a revised and extensive public consultation process and received almost 70 per cent support for the location from residents who responded to the process.
“We want to deliver service to the Sahtlam without further delay,” Gregg said.