Directors raise doubts about regulatory process

Directors raise concerns over health and appearance issues with Telus’ plans to erect cell towers along the Highway 3 corridor

Brian Gregg, Senior Real Estate and Government Affairs Manager with Telus, addressed the regional district Planning and Development Committee on September 6.

Gregg presented himself  to the regional district board committee to answer concerns about the consultation process for telecommunications towers on crown land.

Telus recently signed an agreement  with the province to add an additional 1,700 kilometres of new cellular service throughout the province, along primary and secondary highways.

In the regional district, the company has plans to provide cellular service along Highways 3 and 3A, stretching from Manning Park to Richter Pass, as well as from Keremeos to the Highway 97 corridor.

“This is a vital step forward for emergency services,” Gregg told the committee, noting that 60 per cent of all 911 calls are made with cell phones.

According to regional district board policy, where telecommunication towers are proposed and are subject to both Industry Canada regulations and Provincial regulations relating to the disposition of Crown land, the regional district acknowledges and considers that the public land use consultation process required by the province will be considered adequate.

Gregg told the board that their approval of the policy would allow Telus to advance the approval of the project by 120 days  – in addition to moving construction forward by a year due to seasonal considerations.

He noted the similarities between Industry Canada and the provincial requirements, and wished to avoid coming back to the board twice for the same permissions.

“Six regional districts over the past year have already adopted this policy,” Gregg said, “The final, critical point that I want to emphasize is that this does not eliminate the ability of the regional district to review each application in detail.

We’re not trying to skip any process here. We’re just trying to eliminate a duplicated process.”

Area “D” Director Tom Siddon disagreed, saying, “My concern is with the quick presumption that is all about whether the consultation processes of the federal cabinet procedure, or the provincial, essentially report to the BC Utility approach – if either of those are adequate to deal with the growing public concern.” Siddon was referring to concerns over possible health risks from exposure to EMF radiation. He further questioned the ability and the mandate of the regulatory bodies involved to determine health risks.

“There are issues of proximity, there are issues of multiplicity, the power level of the heads that you put on these towers – personally, I don’t think a rubber stamp process that says the BC Utilities – BC governmment approach is adequate.

I can’t support a disregard of the Industry Canada procedure, because it’s rooted in  a significant technical evaluation process.

I don’t think the two processes are symetrical.”

Gregg responded once again that no attempt was being made to skip technical requirements, adding that any Crown referral will still come before the board, and that there would be an opportunity for regional district staff and the board to review the application.

Committee members also raised aesthetics concerns, with both Osoyoos Director Stu Wells and Siddon referring to the recently completed Fortis high voltage line along the east side of Skaha Lake.

“In the past, our history of the Fortis line above Heritage Hills – that’s desecration, that was terrible.  What Fortis got away with on that power line on the east side of Skaha Lake, that should never happen.” Wells felt that the technical concerns regarding Telus’ project should be left to higher levels of government to define, commenting that the board did not have that expertise.

Gregg insisted that director’s concerns over appearance would be addressed, adding that the regional district’s emergency services department was consulting with Telus to assess the possibility of co locating emergency services communications on Telus towers, as part of a proposed upgrade of emergency communications in the regional district.

Director Siddon cautioned once again that appearance wasn’t the only issue, as health concerns over excessive EMF radiation exposure shouldn’t be ignored. He also cited the Fortis power line as an example of the regulatory process gone wrong.

“We’ve had emminent scientists and  land titles people assessing the impact (of the Fortis power line)  on those people who live very close to the power line – their property values have dropped by 10 to 20 per cent, and the EMF radiation levels in children’s bedrooms within 200 metres of the power line are way over the specified limit, during certain times of the day, especially during the air conditioning period. So, it’s not so much about what it looks like, there are some electromagnetic issues – and those people were left feeling powerless, because they went to the BC UC and the whole thing went through – and we at the regional district were also powerless.”

The Planning and Development Committee voted in favour of the recommended motion – to adopt  the Crown Land Telecommunications public consultation policy, with Directors Siddon and Alternate Director for Keremeos, Gary Thielmann, opposed.

The motion will be brought forward to the regional district board for adoption at the next regional district board meeting on September 20.