Cell towers that are needed in North Cowichan to meet the community’s communications demands would be required to be located and designed in a manner that are sensitive to potential impacts on the surrounding community, according to draft policy prepared by Coun. Kate Marsh.
The municipality’s proposed new policy on cell towers, which will be reviewed by staff and considered for adoption at a future council meeting, also states that it would be preferable that new free-standing cell towers be sited in non-residential locations in North Cowichan, most preferably in industrial areas, and for service providers to share existing tower infrastructure whenever possible.
As well, the draft policy would require that adequate public consultation be carried out by the proponents with all property owners and residents potentially affected by the proposed towers to a minimum 1000-metre radius, and the proponent will be mandated to hold a public meeting and to include the details of the meeting in the written notice to properties.
The issue of a lack of a policy governing the placement of cell towers in North Cowichan was raised last month after Rogers Communication applied to place two new cell towers on municipal land in North Cowichan to meet the growing needs in the community.
Rogers had informed council in February that it is proposing to place a new cell tower in Evans Park, near the ball field, and one other on Mount Tzouhalem, close to the water reservoir near Kaspa Road, to make wireless service in those two areas more dependable.
Rogers said it intended to hold public consultations with the neighbours of the sites, which are still ongoing, before making a formal application to the municipality to lease them.
But the wireless technology has raised health and other concerns, and many neighbours of the cell tower proposed for Mount Tzouhalem have contacted North Cowichan urging the municipality to have Rogers place the tower far away from their homes, or not allow it in their area at all.
In her report, Marsh said the Radiocommunication Act authorizes the federal Ministry of Innovation, Science and Economic Development to give approval for the installation of cell towers and antenna systems, and municipalities do not have authority to override ISED’s decisions.
But she pointed out that ISED 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.
She also said that municipalities do have limited authority to regulate the siting of cell towers which does permit them to establish development guidelines for them, and an accompanying community consultation process.
“While ISED does have the ultimate authority to permit cell towers, the ministry does like municipalities to have a policy on cell towers and antenna systems that includes permitting and public consultation processes,” Marsh said.
Mayor Al Siebring asked staff what would happen with Rogers Communications application for its two new cell towers if it is brought to council before it adopts the new cell tower policy.
Rob Conway, North Cowichan’s planning and building director, said even if the municipality doesn’t have a policy in place by then, the service providers would still have to follow the ministry’s procedures and policies before they approve any applications.
But he said Rogers will be applying to place the two towers on municipal land, so North Cowichan does have the authority to allow them to be built on its land or not.
“If the municipality chooses not to allow them on its property, then the service provider would have to look for private land to site the towers,” Conway said.“The federal government does put a lot of weight on the process and they want the concurrence of local governments in regards to the siting of cell towers, even if they are to be placed on private land.”