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Willow Point a challenge for Telus to cover

Telus considered locations other than Willow Point Park to put up a new cell phone tower, but they were all turned down.

Brent Shannon, on behalf of Telus, was explaining to council at its Tuesday night meeting why Telus chose the spot near the bocce ball court and baseball diamond for a monopole to enhance spotty cell phone coverage in Willow Point.

“We know there are no other locations, we exhausted our search,” Shannon said. “We were unable to move forward with the college on an agreement – it was close to moving forward but it got turned down. We also approached the (Church of) Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints but that didn’t work out.”

Shannon noted that the area around Willow Point Park is a hard area to work.

“It’s a very difficult area to cover because of the terrain,” Shannon said. “It’s heavily treed in the park and in and around the college (NIC). It’s also very residential, so there’s few areas to pursue to enhance coverage in the area.”

Shannon said the location in Willow Point Park is a good location from Telus’ point of view and it’s a spot that was recommended by city staff.

“The bottom line is what options are available if we don’t go here? And I’m saying there aren’t any. We tried really hard not to go into the houses. This spot puts the monopole at least 100 metres away from any one house,” Shannon added.

But for Nan Latchford, an outspoken critic of the cell tower, that’s not good enough. She presented council with a 125-signature petition full of names that feel the same.

“People expressed health concerns and don’t believe cell towers should be in parks and playgrounds,” Latchford said. “If the tower is there, there will be other antennas going up, this has happened in other communities. There are concerns about the increase in electrical equipment emitting radio frequencies. We need to balance the benefits this technology has on our health.”

Latchford’s main concern is radiation exposure and the health affects she’s been researching such as cancer and autism. Latchford asked council Tuesday night to deny Telus’ application for the cell tower. She also urged council to adopt its own cell tower protocol to identify areas that should be protected from radio frequencies, to improve information requirements of the proponent to the community, including a mandatory public meeting which did not happen with Telus’ proposal.

While Latchford said there’s been a lack of transparency in the current process, Telus disagrees. Shannon said Telus has actually gone above and beyond.

“On March 8 we mailed 22 information packages to residents who may have line of sight to the proposed tower,” Shannon said. “We’re not required to by Industry Canada but we did it to exceed expectations and notify people who would be most concerned out of proximity to their homes.”

Shannon said Telus again exceeded expectations by advertising the public consultation period in two local papers and he noted there was additional attention on the cell tower as a result of newspaper articles that appeared after council meetings in which the tower was on the agenda.

Shannon summed up the public feedback process for council, noting that of the 22 packages sent out by Telus, the company received five or six responses and three responded favourably.

Shannon also acknowledged the petition sent around by Latchford that was received by Telus  as well as 14 people who contacted Telus directly with concerns. Shannon said the top concerns were: the location in the park, health and safety, aesthetics, lighting, and property value.

Shannon said the monopole will be tucked into the trees and, at 30 metres high, will likely be hidden from view. Telus also plans to paint the tower green to blend in with the surrounding nature.

Council is expected to make a decision on the tower at its June 25 council meeting. The city, if the tower is approved, will receive an annual licence fee of $15,000 from Telus. Telus could be approached by other carriers such as Rogers and Mobilicity to use Telus’ tower to improve their cell coverage. Telus can also extend the height of the tower by 25 per cent without applying to Industry Canada for the modification.

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