Plans for cellphone tower in neighbourhood raise concerns
By Bonnie Belec
Bell Mobility may not be listening to residents who are opposed to the installation of a cellphone tower in the neighbourhood, but one woman said Tuesday at least St. John’s city hall is.
“We’re very happy with the stand the city has taken on this,” Patricia Walsh Warren said Tuesday following a St. John’s council meeting.
“Clearly they’re not happy with the way Bell Mobility has approached this. It’s a no-brainer — the World Health Organization, Health Canada all say more research is needed. The long-term effects aren’t known. If the long-term effects aren’t known and more research needs to be done, why would we play guinea pigs with our residents?” she said, as people from the McLoughlan Street area left the chamber.
According to a letter and petition filed by
Coun. Bruce Tilley at the meeting Tuesday, Bell Mobility identified the site, but didn’t notify the city until later of its intentions.
It also informed the city it already had a land lease in place with Anglican Homes Inc. where the tower will be built.
Tilley said the proposed cellular tower is 14.9 metres high, but because the tower is under 15 metres Bell avoids the mandatory consultation requirements of Industry Canada.
Industry Canada has the final say, as wireless communication facilities are governed by federal legislation and administered by that department.
“When Bell Canada had the information session at St. Mary’s (school) last week it was the biggest farce I ever went to in my life. I can’t believe they can come in and do what they did,” said Tilley.
The proposed site is on land adjacent to St. Mary’s Elementary School and the Bishop Meaden Manor senior citizens complex in the west end of St. John’s.
People against the proposal gathered in the playground two weeks ago to bring attention to their concerns. Many of them attended the meeting Tuesday.
“We strongly suggest Anglican Homes Inc. reverse its decision to lease property for this purpose and encourage Bell Mobility to find a more suitable site not located in a residental zone and in close proximity to St. Mary’s school, the playground, the grand concourse walking trail and the seniors home,” reads the residents’ petition.
Tilley told council that people are extremely upset by Bell’s disregard for their concerns and they want council to file a letter of non-concurrence to the company saying council does not agree with a cell tower in this community-sensitive location. He said they also want the letter sent to Industry Canada and to the board of Anglican Homes.
For the past year, St. John’s council has been trying to deal with requests to install communications towers in the city and has taken steps to develop its own protocol for identifying appropriate sites.
“Bell is fully aware of it and on July 26, they wrote the planning department supporting the protocol and committed to working with the city,” said Coun. Tom Hann, chairman of the planning committee.
“I talked to the local representative after the rally on the playground and voiced our opinion that we were very disappointed in the consultation process and that they need more communication, openness, and they need to listen to residents and the city,” he said, adding it’s council’s opinion Bell was going to go ahead and put the tower in without even so much as consulting with anyone.
Hann said no application has been filed.
City manager Bob Smart said the draft has been put before the planning committee and it was the July 26 letter from Bell that encouraged the committee to take another look at the draft, taking Bell’s comments into consideration, and then bring it back to the next planning committee.
“It’s ironic it was on the basis of the comments by Bell we did agree to have another look at our policy, so the fact they would proceed, with the knowledge we were reassessing the policy, is disappointing to say the least,” Smart said.
Mayor Dennis O’Keefe said he received notification from Bell Tuesday that it would accept comments until Sept. 27 — a two-week extension — given the fax number it gave residents to submit comments wasn’t in service.
“When it was passed to me my reaction was, ‘Too bad Bell, you missed the opportunity to reach out to people.’ What they should have said is, ‘We are deferring any further action until the protocol is developed.’ They didn’t and they failed,” he said.
Walsh Warren said the whole process by Bell has been a travesty.
“It’s pretty bad for a telephone company to have a fax number out of service. It’s been like this from the beginning. They’re just going full steam ahead and doing what they want without any adherence to the feelings from anyone in the neighbourhood or the city,” she said.