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East Sooke cell tower plan gets thumbs down from land use committee

Health concerns cited as reasons for opposition by residents

East Sooke residents may have won the first round in their fight to block an experimental cell tower, but there are a few more rounds before the final bell.

More than 40 attendees at the Juan de Fuca land use committee meeting on Tuesday opposed the tower. Many of their concerns were health-related.

The land use committee must provide a statement of concurrence or non-concurrence to the applicant and Industry Canada. The committee’s decision to vote for non-concurrence passed by a margin of 4-2.

“I was very happy to see so many community members engaged in the process,” Al Wickheim, electoral area director for Juan de Fuca, said. “The outcome was to the satisfaction of the East Sooke community, and I’m very comfortable with that.”

The land use committee’s decision marks only the first step in the process before the proposal goes to the Capital Regional District board, which can decide to override the land use committee’s decision.

“I hope to attend the CRD board meeting and articulate the community’s stance,” said Wickheim, who added that he must remain neutral in his role as regional director.

Historically, the federal government has sided with cell tower applications.

The proponent has stated that cell towers are a proven technology operated in compliance with Health Canada’s radio frequency exposure guidelines.

ALSO READ: New radio towers proposed for Sooke

The CRD conducted a 30-day public consultation from Sept. 15 to Oct. 14 in accordance with the Juan de Fuca radiocommunications and broadcasting antenna systems application process.

A petition with 90 names voicing concerns about the proposal was receivedand continujes to grow. There were also nine submissions from the public voicing concerns.

During the public engagement process, Alex Stringer said in an email that he strongly opposed the tower. He believes it will adversely affect his son’s health, who is immunocompromised, and the science isn’t conclusive regarding health effects after companies install towers in the middle of residential neighbourhoods.

The proponent replied that the tower would be operated in a way that complies with Health Canada’s radio frequency exposure guidelines.

Joseph Rebelo said in an email that he doesn’t want another tower because there is an existing one already, and the proponent failed to sufficiently notify nearby residents.

The proponent responded that the community had been engaged according to regulations, which included posting the application on its website on Sept. 15 and in the Sooke News Mirror, as well as an invitation for comments from the public.

Josh Stewart and Sean Roderick Holland said they were opposed because the tower would be too close to many residences and East Sooke Regional Park.

The tower would be in an area designated as settlement in the East Sooke Official Community Plan, which indicates that rural residential is the predominant use of the land. Additionally, the property is partially designated as steep slope, riparian and sensitive ecosystem development permit areas. The property has two existing towers.

CRD Parks said its primary concern is that the tower be sited in a way that minimizes the height difference between the tower and surrounding trees to minimize the visual impact on visitors to East Sooke Regional Park.

Additional information provided by the applicant stated that the tower would be hidden from view from most vantage points. Due to the area’s rolling terrain, access points from the tower to the park are not planned, and CRD Parks does not believe its interests will be impacted by the tower.

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In the CRD’s report to the land use committee, CRD First Nations Relations indicated that there is no registered archaeological site on the property – the nearest is 800 metres north of the proposed tower – so a Provincial Heritage Conservation Act permit is not required.

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About the Author: Rick Stiebel

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