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Alpine cell tower application withdrawn, plan goes public

Public comment period open until Oct. 15



A cell phone tower application near Alpine Meadows was withdrawn on the eve of council releasing a new draft protocol policy on antenna locations.

Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said she didn't know why the application was no longer in progress but that it was "good news" in light of the concerns raised by some residents in Alpine about a new Wind Mobile tower application in that neighbourhood.

That application sparked the development of the council protocol and while Alpine resident Lisa Geddes, who raised concerns with council earlier, still doesn't feel the protocol has any "real teeth," she said at the very least, council has heard her concerns, and those of her fellow crusaders for change.

"My gut is that they (council) are pondering the potential health risk as well, but they just don't have the appetite, for whatever reason, to go down that road... It may be they want more research or that they would be fighting Industry Canada in an uphill battle and they're not prepared to take that on, which I understand.

"But I think we were heard."

The draft policy was presented to council at Tuesday's meeting.

The policy outlines preferred locations for new antenna systems: areas that maximize the distance from residences, mounted on buildings or existing structures within the village, in areas that respect public views and vistas of important natural or manmade features, among other things.

The mayor sees it as a balancing act, on the one hand recognizing the desire for more cell coverage versus the concerns for health and aesthetics.

While the federal government still has the ultimate jurisdiction, the mayor agreed with Councillor Jayson Faulkner's assessment that the protocol gives some "moral suasion."

It was based on a template protocol development by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Alliance.

"FCM and CWTA have agreed that if a municipality has that protocol in place, that new antenna sitings have to comply with that protocol," said Wilhelm-Morden. "So it does have more teeth than not having it."

In addition to the Wind Mobile tower application in Alpine, there is another application to increase the height of a tower at Lorimer Road and Highway 99. That is still on the table.

The municipal planning department has been dealing with an increasing number of antenna system applications within Whistler's boundaries to meet the exploding demand for wireless service — 27 million wireless phone subscribers in Canada, 75 per cent of Canadian households have access to a wireless phone, Canadians send more than 270 million text messages per day, and Canadians expect reliable, high quality wireless service wherever they are.

The municipal staff's report to council states: "As much as 40 to 50 per cent of mobile data is consumed at home. Because of this demand, wireless facilities need to be located closer to residential areas than ever before."

The policy notes that cell tower proponents must comply with Health Canada's Safety Code 6 — Limits of Human Exposure to Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields.

Geddes, and fellow citizens who raised concerns, have issues with Code 6.

"We were in agreement that Industry Canada Safety Code 6 being one of the weakest internationally isn't adequate enough," said Geddes.

"There isn't anything in this policy that might say 'if future research becomes quite clear that long-term exposure or cumulative exposure to this low grade radiation appears to be a health concern and Industry Canada hasn't upgraded their safety code, there's no recourse at the municipal level to insist on more stringent guidelines if Industry Canada is slow on the uptake of that.

"That's my only concern."

The draft policy will be available for community review and comment until Oct. 15. Staff will then report back to council on any changes.

Said the mayor: "It will be interesting to hear what the public has to say during the public consultation process."