By Sue Tiffin
Algonquin Highlands council is deferring until November a decision on extending a previous letter of concurrence for a proposed telecommunication tower requested by Rogers Communication Inc., and asking questions about the possibility of co-locating the planned tower on the existing Bell tower already in the area as well as shielding residents from tower lights.
Planner Sean O’Callaghan brought the correspondence from Rogers for the requested extension to council on Oct. 7 at a meeting held virtually. The tower had been presented to council by Rogers a number of years ago, in March 2015, alongside public consultation and was approved then but not constructed within the required three years.
An extension on the previous letter of concurrence was requested in November 2018. A new extension would expire in 2024, though the request for the updated letter of concurrence from Rogers notes the company “anticipate[s] that construction will be completed prior to the end of 2022 but due to the nature of the business, timelines can be delayed for reasons outside of our control.”
Councillor Jennifer Dailloux shared the remarks of a constituent in the area who has a “long memory of these things,” and said that at the time of the initial proposal, residents had asked for the possibility of co-location with a Bell tower if that tower was erected in the area first.
The Rogers tower, a 35-metre monopine telecommunication tower, would be located on Maple Ridge Road in Dorset, near Kawagama Lake, approximately five kilometres from the 30-metre monopine tower since put in place and owned and operated by Bell. At that time, the option to co-locate was disqualified by Rogers engineers, who stated the Bell tower “would not meet the coverage requirements suitable for the Rogers network.”
“Co-location is a fairly routine thing to do and the constituent who wrote in said the cell signal from that tower is quite strong within the area suggesting that the Rogers signal would also be quite strong from that area,” said Dailloux. She suggested Rogers be asked about co-location, and also about the possibility of shielding some of the light from the tower meant to support air traffic and safety that was reflecting downwards toward residences and lakes.
“What options do we have around those concerns?” Mayor Carol Moffatt asked O’Callaghan. “They’re tremendously valuable. The lights are a huge issue for anybody, they’re just really annoying. Do we have any options?”
O’Callaghan said he had posed both questions to his contact at Rogers but had not received correspondence in time for council. He said that when co-location was looked at years ago, Rogers was not in favour of it.
“In this letter, Rogers was explaining that this site was specifically chosen to work with their equipment that they already have in place, with their towers,” he said. “I’m not an expert in this field by any means, but I have to rely on what they’re saying, that they’ve looked at this site and this is the only site that would work best for them, however it doesn’t hurt to ask, so I have posed that question to them.”
“I’d certainly like to do that,” said Moffatt. “When you look at the map and where the two towers are, we’ve got a massive county and a massive township under our own jurisdiction, and there’s two towers that are within – I know they’re not, but that are within spitting distance of each other. And it’s outrageous. They just don’t like to co-locate. That’s what I believe, that that’s the bottom line, they just don’t want to. I think we need to push a little bit on this. It seems completely unreasonable to put more fake trees and more lights in the sky, that close together.”
“If they are concerned that there would be a reduction in service or there is some other disadvantage to co-location, perhaps they could outline those changes and those differences in their evidence to us, so if it’s only a really, really small amount, we could encourage and push for co-location a little bit further,” said Dailloux. “If it’s a large amount, obviously that’s fine but I tend to agree with Mayor Moffatt, I wonder if it’s more a question of will than of science and technology. It would be good to get the evidence on that.”
Moffatt noted that while the township did move away from the Industry Canada standard process to develop its own process a few years ago, it was not “an approval authority,” and the letter of concurrence only confirms that Rogers followed the protocol as outlined.
Deputy Mayor Liz Danielsen, who is also the county warden, acknowledged that a difference from when the tower was first proposed is that Rogers was recently the successful bidder on the contract for the Eastern Ontario Regional Network’s cell gap project, valued at more than $300 million and including an upgrade to existing towers and construction of 300 new cell towers through eastern Ontario to improve cellular calling service, ability for users to run video and applications and stream high-definition video.
“That would definitely have changed the picture for them, but you know, Rogers also talks about how well they work with municipalities, and about partnerships, so it’s definitely worth an effort in trying to get some cooperation from them,” she said, later adding: “Right after they were awarded that contract they put out a public statement about the work they would do with partners and municipalities, and the good things that they do, and it certainly wouldn’t hurt to remind them of that.”