About 20 residents of Sooke came out to express their concerns about a Freedom Mobile proposal to put cell towers in two of several planned locations (see the full agenda here). Freedom Mobile is a Canadian wireless telecommunications provider owned by Shaw Communications. All who spoke at the meeting were opposed. The meeting was attended by acting mayor Bev Berger, along with Councillors Brenda Parkinson, Ebony Logins, Rick Kasper, Kevin Pearson and Kerrie Reay. Mayor Maja Tait was absent.
Acting Mayor Bev Berger reiterated multiple times at the beginning of the Committee of the Whole meeting that Council has no jurisdiction over where Cell Towers go, but they can hear the concerns of the people and pass it back to the applicant.
As per the summary in the agenda, “Under the Radiocommunication Act, Industry Canada has exclusive jurisdiction in the licensing of Antenna Systems, but proponents must consult with the local land use authority and the public. The feedback provided to Industry Canada from the community will be weighed in the decision-making process.”
Freedom Mobile had two representatives give presentations to Council, first about a cell tower coming to 2614 Otter Point Road, second about one coming to 5154 Sooke Road. Even though the Committee of the Whole was just receiving information and no binding decisions could be made, Councillor Pearson stated a Conflict of Interest and stepped out for the conversation around the location on Sooke Road.
Each Freedom rep spoke to the standards set out by Health Canada (specifically quoting Safety Code 6), and stated that the incoming towers were well below the amounts specified by the federal government. The first presentation mentioned that Freedom Mobile was Canada’s fourth national mobile, a Western Canada company. They would offer lower rates, more choices, and more employment opportunities. They can also give better cell access to emergency services.
Each Freedom rep spoke to community outreach, saying that advertisements were taken out in both print papers.
Sooke PocketNews was not included in their outreach, either by press release or advertisement (both options are available).
From the Otter Point neighbourhood, Freedom Mobility received no responses to their notices. From the Sooke Road neighbourhood, they received about seven responses. At the meeting, several residents who lived within the notification zone stated that they did not receive notifications.
One member of the public was particularly irate. He felt it was a fait accompli, a done deal from the get go. Consultation was poor. No one came to his house to speak about it. No one received the packet of information was presented in advance to the District.
“You should be embarrassed,” this gentleman said. There are seven people living around the Sooke site, including people with health issues, as well as children. “I sure hope you people do a better job with your next consultation.”
It was noted that while Health Canada states it has high safety standards, various other studies were cited by presenters stating that Canada is actually among the few countries with the lowest standards, world wide. It was also noted that the approving agency was Industry Canada, not Health Canada, and that Industry Canada’s priority was, um, Industry.
References were also made to studies that spoke to adverse health affects, and that the most vulnerable were children and the sick.
One member of the public noted that there were times that people thought lead, asbestos and tobacco were pretty safe too. That landowners were being paid $15,000 a year to host these towers was also a “pretty big carrot,” meaning the incentive was one that was pretty difficult to turn down.
Quoting from several cell companies reports to shareholders, litigation from the public regarding health concerns would be something shareholders would have to take into account with their expected return on invest.
It was also noted by members of the public that their property values would be impacted, and letters from various realtors were read from to make this point. The drop would be “significant,” though no exact number could be given.
One real estate assessment stated that if a sight line was impacted because of change to District height restrictions, then it would be up to the District to reimburse the homeowner for the difference.
Plea to Council to represent its residents
One person made the plea directly to Council, “We rely on you as Council to represent and protect us.”
Outside of independent legal action, the public has no recourse. They rely on their elected officials to represent their concerns.
“You know, it’s not an easy task for us,” said Rick Kasper. He said that the municipality is in a difficult position, their hands were legally tied. This is a matter, he said, over which they have full control. Council can only make sure the information presented here is conveyed to the applicant and the governments. It’s our hope that they listen to what the residents have to say. He ultimately encouraged everyone with concerns to contact their member of parliament (Randall Garrison).
Ebony Logins had a different take. Council can indeed make a stand. They can choose non-concurrence, especially for the Sooke Rd. Property. There is already coverage in that area, she observed, and it’s outside of our growth area.
Brenda Parkinson wanted a letter to be put forward that the groups need to work together to find a solution that works for all parties involved.
Kerrie Reay, mindful of the many complaints about lack of coverage in various parts of Sooke, sought to balance people’s need for coverage with what’s best for the community.
Kevin Pearson, having heard only a part of the input, observed the rapid changing pace of technology as well as the abundance of conflicting “scientific” reports. He noted that this can’t be an issue unique to Sooke, and that perhaps they can benefit from past research done on the matter.
Bev Berger was not prepared to either support or opt for non-concurrence. She did note that cell towers can be made to look like pine trees (that received a collective groan from the gallery). She also noted that it was somewhat hypocritical that for her to learn about the issue, she had to go onto a computer.
Ultimately it was noted that there was an expectation for a municipality to “turn it around” within 120 days. Since the Applications were submitted on April 6 and 12, Sooke was already 60 days into the process. It was determined that this would be further addressed at a Regular Council meeting, to be held on July 10. Before then, Freedom would be expected to respond to the concerns that were expressed at the meeting and submitted to Council. Staff was also asked to provide more information to Council before then.