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Thornhill cellphone tower decision delayed

The lack of reliable cellphone service has been a thorn in the side of Thornhill residents for years, cumulating in a 1,000-plus-signature-strong petition residents sent to Telus last year imploring the company to put up a cellphone tower in the neighbourhood.

And area residents are close to getting their wish.

Telus, represented by the company Standard Land, is currently consulting with the Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine in order to erect a $300,000 75-metre cell phone tower on Haaland Ave., in an area zoned light industrial and on property owned by Bear Creek Contracting.

“We heard from residents that they wanted better wireless coverage, and this tower will bring wireless to the community of Thornhill and about six kilometres of Highway 16. We’re currently in consultation with the Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine and the public, and anticipate the site will be on-air this year or in early 2014,” said Liz Sauve of Telus media relations.

“As part of the consultation process, we posted ads in the newspaper and also sent information packages directly to all homes and businesses within the direct area of the proposed tower site. Given the routine nature of putting up the site, and the public’s overwhelming support, public meetings were not needed,” she said.

But not all residents are in favour. Those who live in the residential area directly near the site are concerned about decreasing property value, health hazards, and what they say is an abundance of other non-residential sites in the area that could be used instead.

“There are much more suitable sites for a cell tower than outside the front of my property,” said Thornhill resident Jodi Belanger in a letter to the regional district. Hers was one of two letters submitted to the planning committee from residents opposed to the tower.

“I would like to know who will be responsible for recouping the value of my home as its value will be greatly depreciated once a cell tower is constructed? Also, who is going to take responsibility for my health and the health of my family once we will be subjected to ongoing radiation 24/7?” Her letter of opposition was submitted to the district as part of the planning committee’s discussions on whether or not it will provide a variance development permit for the site.

Because the proposed tower is 64 metres higher than the 11 metre height currently allowed in the area, the board needs to sign off on a variance development permit to allow the taller structure. But before the district signs off on the variance permit, the district has asked Telus to provide it with more information as to why that particular site was chosen and what other sites were considered.

“When that went to the Thornhill Advisory Planning Commission, they’re recommendation was that Telus, or Standard Land, consider other sites. And that was communicated back to Standard Land and so we believe they are assembling that information and more rationale on why the particular site they’ve chosen,” said Andrew Webber, planning manager at the regional district. “[We’re] wanting rationale before committing to that site – and why are alternates not suitable for achieving the same result.”

The final say on cellphone towers ultimately lies with Industry Canada and that public commenting period portion closed Feb. 28.

But neighbourhood residents can still make comments through the variance permit process to the regional district who, at the request of Telus, held off on a decision until the Industry Canada process had gone through.

Along with comment from the neighbours who are opposed, the district has also received about half a dozen letters through a Chamber of Commerce email push that highlighted concerns from neighbourhood businesses concerned that considering other sites for the tower will delay the project until the fall of 2014.

“If it’s a comment about wanting cellphone service in that area, I don’t really think it’s a leap to say the regional district agrees with that, but we’re dealing with the land use and that’s especially an issue for the neighbours that are there – not that there are a lot of them – so that’s really going to weigh heavily on the development variance permit,” he said, noting that comments from Chamber members in Terrace would have less of an impact on the permit decision.

The site for the new cellphone tower falls in line with Telus’ 10-year telecommunications agreement with the province, called Connecting BC, which aims to improve cellphone service in rural B.C. areas, including along Hwy16.

Telus also wants to improve its wireless service at the Northwest Regional Airport.

Company officials told airport manager Carman Hendry earlier this year they want to install several antennae on existing structures.

He said improvements would be more than welcomed to service airport customers.

“It’s hit and miss. You can get dropped calls,” said Hendry of existing Telus wireless service. “Wireless internet can also be a problem.” There’s been no date set of when Telus would install the antennae.

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