Telus Communications is looking to construct a 63-metre high cell tower on private land on Tipperary Road in Sahtlam.
At a recent meeting, the Cowichan Valley Regional District’s electoral area services committee recommended to the board that it provide a letter of concurrence to Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada to allow the tower to be built.
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.
Telus has received almost 50 comments from residents on the project, which is proposed for a sparsely populated area, with approximately 70 per cent in favour.
Alison Nicholson, director for Cowichan Station/Sahtlam/Glenora in which the tower is proposed, said it’s a well known fact that cell phone coverage in Sahtlam is poor and that area residents want better coverage, mainly for safety reasons.
But she said Telus held community consultations on constructing a cell tower about a year ago on a site close to the area where this tower is now proposed.
“There was so much concern raised that Telus abandoned the project and the CVRD was never asked to comment on that,” Nicholson said.
“The immediate neighbours in that area are very concerned. This time, while 70 per cent [of respondents] were in favour, 30 per cent were not. They have real concerns about their property values being diminished, health, sight lines and so forth.”
As well, Nicholson said this proposal is right next to a CVRD park and is near residential areas.
“It’s also not clear what other things could be done to improve cell phone coverage in the Sahtlam area,” she said. “It’s a growing land-use issue that I think we, as a regional government, need to get ahead of.”
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 regional governments do not have authority to override ISED’s decisions.
But 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.
Telus spokesman Doug Anastos said at the meeting that the proposal for the cell tower in Sahtlam is a direct result from requests from the community for better service.
He said the current poor cell phone coverage in Sahtlam is not safe for its residents in the event of an emergency, and it’s not conducive to people working from home.”
“We’ve been looking for different options for about a year and a half now and it’s very challenging, so this is really the best we can come up with,” Anastos said. “I can’t think of another alternative if this doesn’t work.”
The committee recommended to the board that it provide a letter of concurrence for the project, with only Nicholson opposed.
Check back on the Citizen’s website for an update on this story coming soon, with the CVRD board’s decision.