Even though the placement of cellular towers falls under federal jurisdiction, the City of St. John’s appears to be doing whatever it can in response to an unpopular proposal by Bell Mobility to build a tower near a school.
Council gave unanimous approval Monday to a draft siting protocol for wireless facilities in St. John’s. That protocol is expected to become the subject of a yet-to-be-scheduled public meeting, one that the city hopes will include representation from the telecommunications industry and the federal government.
Council also unanimously approved a motion put forward by Ward 4 Coun. Bruce Tilley calling on Bell Mobility to back away from its proposal to build a cell tower on McLoughlan Street.
“This has been a very trying time for the residents of the McLoughlan Street area,” said Tilley, who has received a lot of calls and emails concerning Bell Mobility’s proposal. Safety concerns have proven to be the main issue for area residents.
“It proved to me that they are very concerned and very honest about this situation,” said Tilley.
The telecommunications company already has a lease agreement in place for the property with Anglican Homes Inc.
The draft protocol would function as a means for the city to voice its displeasure concerning non-compliant proposals to both the proponent and Industry Canada, the federal government department responsible for licensing, development and operation of wireless facilities.
“Note that in cases where the city does not support a proposal, it cannot prevent a proponent from ultimately gaining permission from Industry Canada to install wireless facilities,” reads the draft protocol. “However, the city would expect the proponent to abandon the (installation) if the city does not concur.”
The protocol calls for wireless facilities to be considered a discretionary use for all zones within
St. John’s and recommends that they be at least 150 metres from residential and apartment zones or schools and recreational facilities.
“No matter the land-use, if a proponent wants to use a site with less than 150 metres of separation ... the council will issue a letter of non-compliance to both the proponent and to Industry Canada,” said Coun. Tom Hann, chair of the planning and housing standing committee.
The proposed cell tower location on McLoughlan Street is reportedly 90 metres from St. Mary’s Elementary on Waterford Bridge Road. Tilley introduced a friendly amendment Monday calling for a 200-metre buffer instead of 150. The protocol includes additional stipulations concerning heritage areas, public notifications and public meetings.
Hann said the city should arrange to meet with representatives from Bell Mobility and Industry Canada to discuss the siting protocol and write to federal Industry Minister James Moores to request that the city be given final authority on such matters.
City staff will now use the draft protocol to evaluate applications presently before council.
Bell Mobility has not filed an application with the city concerning the McLoughlan Street proposal, according to Hann.
Industry Canada does not require consultations with local communities for antenna systems with a height of less than 15 metres.
Bell Mobility held separate public information sessions last month in St. John’s for the McLoughlan Street tower and a proposed tower for the Oceanex Terminal. An application was filed with the city for the Oceanex Terminal tower.
Mark Stanford, who lives in the McLoughlan Street area, said he was impressed with council’s siting protocol.
“They have moved a motion that is very consistent with other municipalities that have such protocol across Canada,” he said. “It certainly protects the interests that we’ve been trying to protect in terms of proximity of these sorts of towers not only to residents, but schools, recreation facilities (and) playgrounds where our kids are.”
Stanford said both the World Health Organization and Industry Canada have found there is not enough research to say that electromagnetic radiation emitted from cell towers is not harmful.
However, Health Canada does not appear to be concerned about their impact on public heath. On a website dealing with safety concerns related to cellphones and cell towers, it said, “There is no scientific reason to consider cellphone towers dangerous to the public.”
The federal government department went on to state this remains the case, “as long as exposures respect the limits set in Health Canada’s guidelines.”
St. John’s South-Mount Pearl NDP MP Ryan Cleary was at Monday’s council meeting. He said municipalities across Canada have been dealing with similar issues with respect to cell towers.
“There needs to be a uniform policy for cell tower regulations, construction, right across the country,” he said. “This ultimately falls to Industry Canada. The buck stops with Industry Canada, and Industry Canada has to strengthen its regulations across the board for all cell towers, no matter the height.”