A new cell tower has been proposed to be built on Tla’amin Treaty land on Cortes Island, which will help ensure the safety of residents in the area during emergency situations.
The proposed tower has been planned for the Pahkeeahjim treaty land, located on southern Cortes Island. The 63.1 metre tower will help ensure cell service is available throughout the island, along with adjacent waters and Quadra Island.
“It’s quite apparent that there’s a huge need on Quadra and Cortes for better cell reception. For example, in Heriot Bay if you’re sitting there and you miss the ferry you’ll be stuck there for a number of hours and there’s no cell service,” said Tla’amin First Nation executive council member Erik Blaney. “In my office… if I’m sitting there I can actually take a call from my desk, but I would have to sit with my back right up and down and not move at all.”
Last year, Telus approached the Strathcona Regional District with plans to build a tower on Cortes. However, the regional district raised some concerns with the plan, particularly around the frequencies that would be used on the tower, potential locations and whether or not the project interfered with the SRD’s own Connected Coast project.
After backlash from the community and the regional district, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) told the SRD that an application could not go forward without a letter of concurrence from the board, the Mirror reported at the time.
During the Dec. 8 board meeting, SRD Cortes Island director Noba Anderson voiced her concern that by leasing land from the Tla’amin Nation, the SRD would not be included in any consultation because they have no jurisdiction. However, Blaney said that there is currently a consultation period going on and that he has heard from people living all over the province about the project.
“The reason Telus came to us is because of the feedback from folks who live on the road,” Blaney said. “They were stating that they wanted the cell tower further away from their homes. Given that we don’t have any houses on our property over there just yet, its better for them from their point of view that this tower is further away from their homes and on our lands.”
The past few months have shown that emergency response is important. Under the current system, the Tla’amin First Nation and other Nations in the area have to rely on outdated systems for their emergency communication.
“We’re actually having to relay any emergency communications by cellphone from the Squirrel Cove community over to Powell River and then have somebody relay that information to Emergency Management B.C.” Blaney said. “To have to be doing communication relays because there’s no landlines, we become extremely dependent on cell service to manage your emergency operations.”
Many opposed to the tower also believe that there is a risk involved with 5G frequencies. However, Blaney said Tla’amin has seen peer-reviewed science stating that “there’s nothing that we’ve seen that jeopardizes the safety of anybody.”
“There are probably two people on Cortes who wrote letters about living on the island because they want to escape the downtown feeling and live a rural life,” he said. “That’s all good and fine, but for the original inhabitants who have been living there for thousands of years and trying to now modernize and be in a society where all of these natural disasters are all around us, we don’t really have a choice to pick up and move to downtown Vancouver to access cellular service.”