The Cowichan Valley Regional District is looking to implement a cell-tower siting policy.
The district’s committee of the whole recommended that the board adopt a siting policy that includes a requirement for cell towers to be located more than 300 metres from schools; avoid areas affecting public views; avoid hazardous and environmentally sensitive areas; and there be minimal tree removal.
But Alison Nicholson, director for Cowichan Station/Sahtlam/Glenora, said she was very disappointed with the draft policy in that it’s not strong enough in stating where the CVRD would prefer towers be placed in electoral areas.
Earlier this year, the CVRD’s board decided to support allowing a controversial 63-metre high cell tower to be built in Sahtlam, and Nicholson voted against it stating it’s proposed to be built close to a residential area and there’s a lot of opposition to it in her electoral area.
She said she read North’s Cowichan’s recently adopted cell tower siting policy in which it states that the municipality would prefer cell towers be placed at least 500 metres from residences, and would encourage that they be placed in transportation and utility corridors, and commercial sites remote from residential areas.
“I think we definitely need to make it a stronger policy in that regard,” Nicholson said.
CVRD planner Alison Garnett explained that the reason the CVRD’s draft policy is not as specific as North Cowichan’s is that the CVRD has vast residential areas and those are the areas where, more often, increased connectivity is being sought.
“As well, we’re trying to emphasize that the policy looks to really strong public consultations so that we are receiving the full breadth of public opinions on it so the board can make a decision on how to respond to the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada on siting issues,” Garnett said.
The committee recommended the new policy be adopted, but directed that staff do further research on it with an eye to the restrictions that are in North Cowichan’s policy for possible amendments by the end of the year.
The Radiocommunication Act authorizes the federal Ministry of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada 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.
Before the issue came up at the committee meeting, a number of delegations spoke against cell towers, citing research that states they are a health concern.
Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone said he’s not insensitive to the ongoing and emerging science around the impacts of wireless technology.
He said he has worked in the computer industry his whole life and has taken precautions to protect himself, his family and staff.
“That being said, I also recognize the necessity in today’s world of good connectivity, safety, security, economic opportunity and equity for folks who feel they really need that service,” Stone said.
“But, more than that, I also repeat the limits of our authority and jurisdiction which comes down to recommendations around siting, not final decision making unless its on municipal property, and getting feedback from the community to forward to the ISEDC which does make the final decision.”