The CVRD will not 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.
The board decided at its last meeting in a tight 8-7 vote to deny a request from Telus Communications to send the letter of concurrence to the federal Ministry of ISEDC as part of the company’s efforts to build the tower on private land on Tipperary Road.
The board’s decision came after the CVRD’s electoral area services committee recommended that the letter be sent, with only Alison Nicholson, director for Cowichan Station/Sahtlam/Glenora in which the tower is proposed, voting in opposition.
At the board meeting, Nicholson said there is a significant segment of the population in the area who are concerned about cell towers and their impacts on health and safety, sight lines and property values.
She acknowledged that it’s true that there are problems with cell coverage in the area, but said the CVRD is currently developing a connectivity strategy that, in addition to looking at internet connectivity, is also looking at cellular connectivity.
“I spoke with our development staff and I understand that a recommendation is coming out of that work that will see the district develop a siting strategy [for cell towers],” Nicholson said.
“I learned at the electoral area services committee meeting that planning staff have already drafted a policy as part of the modernization of the official community plan and that policy states that we should locate new equipment in non-residential areas, and preferably locate them in industrial areas.”
Nicholson said that, because the CVRD doesn’t yet have a guiding policy on locating cell towers and because there is substantial opposition from the neighbours of the proposed tower, it would be prudent to wait until the district has a clearer direction from the broader community and a cell-tower policy in place before considering sending the ISEDC a letter of concurrence.
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.
Ian Morrison, director for Cowichan Lake South/Skutz Falls, said he’s trying to determine when the board changed from the foundational policies on which it makes its recommendations based on the bylaws and policies that are actually in place today, and doesn’t anticipate a policy that may or may not be implemented by the board to determine its recommendations.
“So, going back to the basics, we know what the rules are on the books and this was thoroughly discussed at committee,” he said.
But at the end of the discussion, Nicholson, Mill Bay/Malahat director Blaise Salmon, Town of Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone, North Cowichan Coun. Christopher Justice, Shawnigan Lake director Sierra Acton, Saltair/Gulf Island director Lynne Smith, Duncan Mayor Michelle Staples and North Cowichan Coun. Kate Marsh voted against sending the letter of concurrence.
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.