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Whonnock residents oppose cell tower

Whonnock resident Janet Foster is concerned about cell tower plans for next door. - Colleen Flanagan/The News
Whonnock resident Janet Foster is concerned about cell tower plans for next door.
— image credit: Colleen Flanagan/The News

If Whonnock residents have their way, a 60-metre high cellphone tower won’t be built in their eastern Maple Ridge neighbourhood.

But if they’re unsuccessful in stopping the tower, they would at least like to help write a new policy in Maple Ridge on where cellphone towers should be built.

“We’re trying to approach this as a community issue,” said Heather McNeill, whose mom Janet Foster lives next door to where Telus wants to put up the new tower on 110th Avenue.

McNeill and other members of Whonnock ACT (Against Cell Tower) says the towers shouldn’t be in residential areas and she wants the district to follow other cities and write a policy requiring at least some consultation instead of just following Industry Canada default standards, which require newspaper ads and notification of nearby residents, when a cellphone tower goes up.

“It’s an exciting, passionate issue. This has impacted every single one of these families and their children,” McNeill said Monday.

Many people who live in the area are long-term residents who’ve lived there, as her mom has, for decades.

Residents are concerned about effects on human health and dropping property values if the tower goes up.

McNeill says studies show that towers affect human and animal health, while another recent one says cellphone towers can confuse honey bees used for agricultural pollination.

The tower and the road leading to it run will be close to a creek, she points out.

“Which is shocking because there’s a creek and wetland nearby.”

Foster says she understands the not-in-my-back-yard view and points out her main irritant is the lack of municipal authority on the issue, which is governed by Industry Canada regulations.

“I’m the caretaker of this property and I need to stick up for it.”

Her house will actually be closer to the cell tower than the property owner’s, she points out.

Residents need to get permits to even build a shed, she pointed out.

The Vancouver Island communities of Colwood and Metchosin require consultation on cellphone tower locations and say the first choice for siting a tower shouldn’t be where people work, play, live or go to school, she added.

McNeill said only four residences received letters from Alcatel-Lucent Canada that a cellphone tower was planned. People have 30 days to respond with concerns.

McNeill, though, pointed out that residents within a radius that is three times the height of the tower, or 180 metres, should have been informed.

The issue requires a steep learning curve. The information is brief in the letter sent to residents.

“One of the hardest parts is we are trying to figure out the process ourselves. Nobody is there to help us.”

However, the group is circulating a petition and is having a second meeting Wednesday night.

“We need to organize, to collect our thoughts.”

The group also wants to talk to Maple Ridge district staff to “explore some ideas” and convince them that the municipal can have more input in cellphone tower locations and that they shouldn’t be in residential areas.

According to district planner Diana Hall, Maple Ridge can’t dictate the locations of cellphone towers because they fall under Industry Canada regulations.

“We can’t say no to cell towers in any area. It’s not a municipal land-use question.”

However, the district could expedite proposals for towers in rural areas.

Federal environmental regulations could also come into play.

And the proposed location for the tower is on a steep slope and near a stream. “The environmental and geotechnical issues have to be addressed.”

While the tower wouldn’t have to meet local bylaws, it would have to comply with the Fisheries Act or the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, Hall said.

The district then can say whether it concurs with the project or not, adding if Telus doesn’t meet federal regulations, the cell tower can’t be built.

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