By Bonnie Belec
Industry Canada isn’t doing enough to protect communities, so the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) has picked up the slack, says its president.
The national organization, which has about 2,000 members, has developed a protocol for dealing with the installation of cellular towers in communities as the demand for high-capacity wireless communications outgrows infrastructure.
“Communities deserve to have a say when companies want to build towers in their neighbourhoods, and that’s why FCM has been pushing for a guarantee that communities will be notified and consulted from the moment a new tower is proposed,” FCM president Claude Dauphin said.
Dauphin and FCM leaders are in St. John’s this week to bring together board members to discuss several issues facing municipalities across the country — one of which includes the controversial subject of dealing with wireless providers and the demand to install cellular towers.
It couldn’t come at a more fitting time, as St. John’s city council and residents have been embroiled in a battle with Bell Mobility over the company’s decision to erect a
14.9-metre tower on land adjacent to St. Mary’s Elementary School and the Bishop Meaden Manor senior citizens complex in the west end of the city.
City council members unanimously stated during a meeting Tuesday night they weren’t happy with Bell’s approach, which has been to lease land for the tower and notify city hall of its intentions later.
Bell already has a land lease in place with Anglican Homes Inc.
Industry Canada has the final say over where towers can be constructed, as wireless communication facilities are governed by federal legislation and administered by that department. Regulations state that if a tower is less than 15 metres tall the company doesn’t have to follow the mandatory consultation requirements of Industry Canada.
“Right now, federal telecommunications rules don’t do enough to protect communities, so FCM is helping communities protect themselves by establishing their own local rules for notification and consultation. Telecom carriers have said they’re willing to respect local protocols — and the right of communities to be consulted on towers of all sizes — but communities need help to make sure that commitment is followed through on at ground level,” Dauphin said.
Under FCM’s protocol, it is attempting to get companies to commit to public consultations with municipalities and people regardless of the size of the tower.
As it stands, when a tower is less than 15 metres tall, not only does the company not need to hold consultations, it doesn’t have to file for permission or file an application to build it.
But FCM officials said as municipalities develop their own protocols, it will help prevent towers from being built in areas that are not conducive to the neighbourhoods without some type of a commitment from these companies.
“There have been many instances across the country over the years and this is exactly what led to the need for the protocol. It is essentially a contract between the local government and the major telecommunications providers that they will follow certain steps for community notification and consultation, even for towers below 15 metres,” said the FCM.
St. John’s has been working on its protocol for about a year, and was nearing completion when city hall found out about Bell’s proposal for the McLoughlan Street area.
City manager Bob Smart told council Tuesday Bell was aware of the protocol and even submitted comments that encouraged the planning committee to take another look at the draft.
“So the fact they would proceed, with the knowledge we were reassessing the policy, is disappointing, to say the least,” he said.