Whistler’s politicians heard details this week about the two cellphone tower proposals, sparking debate about what the municipality’s future role and ability should be to influence decisions on how and where the infrastructure is installed.
Two proposed tower projects in Whistler being considered by Industry Canada have raised concerns from members of the community about the affects of the additional technology.
Wind Mobile is proposing a new tower at Alpine Way and in partnership with Scott Telecom Services increasing the height of a tower on Lorimer Road and Highway 99.
Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) manager of planning Mike Kirkegaard said Industry Canada suggests communities establish local protocols and policies with respect to cellphone towers.
“That is something that we should be considering and with specific considerations that are specific to Whistler including our resort community character,” Kirkegaard said. “Planning department staff are working to understand and establish what the municipality’s role and ability is to influence decisions regarding these installations in ways that best reflect the municipality’s interests.”
Whistler specific considerations include guest and local service expectations, the protection of the natural environment, the importance of where towers are placed in terms of visual impact, the sharing of existing towers and use of hydro lines, tops of buildings and existing industrial uses.
Sharing of existing infrastructure is mandated by Industry Canada to be considered first and was a concern noted by council with respect to the Alpine Way proposal, as that location already has two towers.
“Would it not make sense to work with Telus to put up one 41 metre tower there,” asked Coun. John Grills.
Erica Rigik, a representative with Wind Mobile, noted while the companies are required to consider sharing infrastructure first, they are in direct competition with each other as service providers.
“It is not as ideally visionary as it might be,” she said.
Coun. Jayson Faulkner noted the possibility for the municipality to gain revenue from towers being situated on RMOW lands.
Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said that Kelowna requires a business licence for providers on each tower, which could also generate revenue.
However, the mayor also pointed out that the RMOW has a limited amount of public land available, and much of it is made up of parks and community space. She said installing towers needs to balance the health and aesthetics of the resort with services needed by visitors.
With 31 cellphone towers already in Whistler, Wilhelm-Morden expressed her concern there may be enough infrastructure already.
Scott Telecom Services representative Vanessa Cartwright said many towers are on the roofs of hotels and the company “only constructs new towers as a last case scenario,” while Rigik noted the greatest need for coverage is in residential areas with the growing popularity of mobile devices people want to use at home.
With Wind Mobile being a relatively new cellphone company that has plans to add six sites to its current three in Whistler by 2015, Coun. Andrée Janyk said as more new cellphone carriers hit the market they may all want a tower in Whistler .
“It seems as if each mobile company wants to get into Whistler because it is a place people want to go, we will get this proliferation and when does it stop,” she said.
Rigik explained the locations for cellphone towers is based on an “art and science” by radio frequency engineers and is limited by geography. The two proposed towers, she added, would expand Wind Mobile’s coverage area dramatically.
The Lorimer Road tower is proposed to be a 35.1 metre tower that will accommodate Rogers, Wind and one other carrier and would be built and owned by Scott Telecom. It replaces a 15 metre tower in that location and would be topped with two metres of branches and camouflaged with a “monopine” design.
The Alpine Way location is proposed to be 41 metres tall and is located at a distance from residential areas, with the closest homes being approximately 100 metres away. As it is a new tower proposal on Crown land, and requires a referral from the municipality.
It is adjacent to two other towers, a 29 metre Telus tower and a 41 metre Rogers and Bell structure. Rigik said partnering with those two towers was looked at but not possible.
Kirkegaard said the RMOW plans to express concern to Industry Canada over the potentially unnecessary proliferation of towers at this particular location.
Rigik added both proposed locations have had predictive modelling completed on the potential electromagnetic radiation and they fall within Health Canada’s Safety Code 6 guidelines. She said the Alpine Way model included the cumulative affects of the multiple towers and it is still less than one per cent of the standard.
According to Industry Canada health concerns with respect to radiation levels and concerns about property values are not relevant to the approval process.