Council stalls on cellphone tower decision

Plans to install a cellphone tower on Falcon Drive in Copper Ridge have been put on hold.

Plans to install a cellphone tower on Falcon Drive in Copper Ridge have been put on hold.

On Monday night, Whitehorse City Council voted to defer the third reading of a bylaw that would allow the city to lease part of a park behind Copper Ridge Place to Bell Mobility Inc. for 10 years. The bylaw will come for third and final reading on Sept. 9.

Bell wants to install a 28.5-metre-tall tower. Cellphone use in Whitehorse has increased five-fold in the last year-and-a-half, much of it because of data plans on phones, and the tower would help meet the growing demand. The company has similar agreements for properties in Riverdale and Porter Creek.

Some residents have worried that the tower may harm their health, while others say the unsightly structure will lower property values. Some also say they should have been given more information about the proposal.

Legally, Bell only has to consult with residents who live in an area three times the height of the tower. No one lives within 90 metres of the proposed site, according to a city administration report on July 15. On July 31, Bell held an information session with Copper Ridge residents to gather public input.

The tower should not be put near residences, Tracey Twa told council. She urged them to consider how they would vote if the proposed site was in their neighbourhood.

Twa had appeared before council twice before to express her concerns with the tower. She also started a petition opposing it. Over 100 people are against the tower, said Twa.

“The city council and administration care more about the bottom line than the concerns of Copper Ridge residents that put them in office,” she told council. “If you pass this bylaw, you will have very unhappy voters,” she said.

Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon’s chief medical officer of health, also appeared before council. Cellphone towers are a big topic of conversation with doctors around the country, he said. The radiation that comes from cellphone towers is not enough to change someone’s DNA and cause serious damage, he said. Holding a cellphone close to the head exposes people to more radiation than living near a cellphone tower does, he said.

Because the amount of radiation from this tower is well below the amount national standards allow, he has no concerns with it, said Hanley.

Coun. John Streicker trusts what the doctor has to say, he told his fellow councillors. But he suggested the final vote on the bylaw be deferred, to allow council to consider other locations for the tower.

Council supported the delay – barely. It passed by a vote of 3-2. Councillors Mike Gladish and Jocelyn Curteanu were absent from the meeting.

If people want to use cellphones, they should be prepared to see cellphone towers, Coun. Betty Irwin told her fellow councillors. Both Irwin and Mayor Dan Curtis, who is on vacation and attended the meeting by teleconference, voted against postponing third reading.

“No longer is the cellphone an option or a novelty in our lives. It is a necessity. Those who are addicted to their use cannot conceive of not having one,” Irwin said, noting that many Copper Ridge residents probably have and use cellphones.

“Technology, however, is not free,” she said. “We pay for our toys in so many ways, not only in money, but in lack of privacy, dependence and the intrusions on our lives.”

This debate about the cellphone tower is just an example of how people should be careful about what they wish for, she said.

But there should be more time to look at other sites, Streicker said before the final vote. Last month, he had suggested delaying the second reading of the bylaw.

That could prove difficult.

The company has looked at other options near NorthwesTel’s main site, or near the Adit Reservoir, said Brock Enderton, manager of real estate and government relations for the company. But the first location is much closer to residences, he said. If the tower were put on the hill near the Adit Reservoir, the tower would have to be even taller than the one proposed for Copper Ridge, and that would be even more of an eyesore, he said.

Some have suggested putting a tower on Mount McIntyre. But that won’t work either. Putting a tower there would interfere with service to the downtown core, said Enderton. If the Copper Ridge site isn’t approved, the company will have to install at least two other towers in the city, he said. That makes the current Copper Ridge option the only responsible choice, he said.

Delaying construction will mean that other towers in the city will have to be re-orientated. Citizens are often concerned about towers going up in their neighbourhoods, he said. But once the towers are up and operating, they’re no longer worried, said Enderton.

But Twa still has concerns, she said after the meeting. She’s not against technology, and only makes a few calls on her smartphone each day. The delay gives her hope the tower will be put somewhere else. But she still has concerns about possible negative health effects, she said.

“I don’t think I’m a fearmonger,” she said, in response to suggestions residents have made at previous meetings that the health threats are not as serious as some claim. “I’m just a person who doesn’t want a cellphone tower in her backyard.”

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