Copper Ridge is getting a new cellphone tower despite criticism from more than 200 people in the area.
On Monday, council passed a bylaw to lease a 2,185-square-metre plot of land off Falcon Drive to Bell Mobility. Before voting, councillors listened to over an hour of criticism about the plan from residents.
The leased property, which will be surrounded by a fence and contain the cell tower itself, is a 15×15-metre plot near the back of Lot 520.
Bell says the new 28.5-metre tower is needed to help meet the increased need for high-speed wireless data service in Whitehorse.
Copper Ridge resident Tracy Twa spoke at the meeting, saying that she had gathered 224 names of Copper Ridge residents who were against the proposed tower and that, by her estimation, only 83 people had got the original notice about what she called a “huge” infrastructure project.
When Twa went door to door, most people she spoke to doubted the insistence that the Falcon Drive location was the best site, she said.
“Most people don’t believe Bell,” she said.
Dennis Senger also asked council to give the matter a sober second thought. He said the public should have been given more time to comment on the plan.
The city has been in negotiations with Bell to find a site for a new cell tower for over a year, Senger said, and residents were not notified until this spring.
“Why did the city not let the residents know what was happening 12 or 11 months ago? You’ve got cellphone companies putting up towers and annoying people all over the place. It is a rush for gold across the global landscape,” Senger said.
The city may have violated its own communications and consultation policy, he said.
“It was OK for the city to host three public meetings to invite residents of the Ingram subdivision to come out and decide the design of a ‘Welcome to Ingram’ sign. But it was not OK to extend that minimum opportunity to the residents of Copper Ridge,” he said.
People are worried about the potential health impacts of a cell tower near their homes, Senger said, and the city squandered an opportunity to address those concerns.
“Had there been a proper consultation plan, there may have been the opportunity to allay people’s fears and myths about microwave cell towers,” Senger said.
Sherry Young and her husband, Briar, spoke about their worries, with Sherry saying that she suffers from severe health problems whenever she is near cellphones, cell towers or other installations that emit electro-magnetic radiation.
“It depends on the type of installation I’m next to. When I have something with EMF that is in close proximity to my head, for example, I have a hard time concentrating. I have a hard time thinking and I notice that it gets hot when I’m holding it. When I go near the substation or the dam, I get nauseous and feel like I need to get away from it,” Sherry said.
But those concerns are likely unfounded, according to the Yukon’s chief medical officer. In July, Dr. Brendan Hanley told the News that worrying about radiation from cell towers doesn’t make much sense.
People are exposed to radiation every day from a variety of sources, from the sun to televisions and microwaves, Hanley said.
Cell-tower radiation is strongest at the antennas, but most of that energy disappears by the time it reaches land, he said. No credible scientific study has shown that living near a cellular tower can cause negative health effects, like cancer, said Hanley.
People are exposed to far more radiation by holding cellphones up to their ears, said Hanley, and there is some evidence that frequent cellphone use could pose a cancer risk. That’s why frequent users should consider using headsets, he said.
Councillor John Streicker said that in this day and age, cellphones could almost be considered an essential service, especially given the number of 911 calls that come in on the devices.
“Are you suggesting that Copper Ridge go without cell service until this gets sorted out?” he asked.
Brock Enderton, a spokesman for Bell, said that this tower is the last piece of the puzzle for providing city-wide high-speed data service, and that Falcon Drive is the best location for it.
The most common complaint about cell towers is the appearance of the antennas, said Enderton. But when these antennas are hidden inside a shroud, which is Bell’s current plan, the towers are much less obtrusive, he said.
“In response to the structure’s visibility, we are committed to working with the city to develop a high-quality design that meets the city’s approval,” he said.
“We have done our level best to be honest and forthright. It’s the only reasonable single-site location in the area. The topography of the area and the makeup of the community are such that no other site is as good,” he said.
During debate before the vote, Mayor Dan Curtis spoke about his family living very close to a cell tower in Riverdale.
“I’ve heard the concerns about health … but I am comfortable that my family is safe. I just wanted to have a shout out to the people who have raised their concerns. We are not ignoring you. But again, we have to look at what’s best for the vast majority of the population. We have to make hard decisions sometimes.”
Streicker proposed an amendment to the motion, giving council the ability to re-evaluate the approval of the location if Transport Canada requires lights or painting for the tower. It passed unanimously.
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