A capacity crowd of West Vancouver residents turned out Wednesday night to make sure Rogers and District of West Vancouver council understand they are opposed to three more cell towers being installed on the Highway 1 corridor.
Rogers has applied to build three 36-metre towers on provincial land at Taylor Way, 15th Street and 26th Street that will include infrastructure to boost the wireless data coverage of the applicant as well as Telus and Wind Mobile.
Wednesday's event was run much like a municipal pubic hearing, including presentations from district staff and the applicant followed by a chance for residents to speak their minds. The one key difference: West Vancouver council cannot vote on whether to allow the towers to be installed. That is exclusive jurisdiction of Industry Canada.
Driving the need for the towers is growing demand for wireless data service and the federal government auctioning off more bandwidth on the wireless spectrum, according to Mark Draper, a Rogers engineer.
But dropped calls or slower YouTube downloads weren't a priority for dozens of residents who live near the proposed towers when they approached the microphones to lay out their concerns. Among the most commonly repeated: the not fully-understood health impacts of electromagnetic frequency that comes from cell towers, the loss of views and neighbourhood character that would come with "industrial" towers and the drop in property values surrounding residents would suffer.
While district staff reiterated a previous statement from Vancouver Coastal Health's chief medical health officer Dr. Patricia Daly, that cellular antennae do not create health risks for the public and that Canada's Safety Code 6 provides an appropriate level of protection, many speakers pointed to higher safety standards and growing concern from medical, health and safety groups in other countries.
Very little research has been done into the longterm effects of microwave radiation, noted Ken Stiles, a PhD physicist, though in his own review of scientific literature, he did come by a German study that found residents who lived within 400 metres of a cellphone tower were 300 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with cancer over 10 years.
"I strongly urge you to give this some serious thought. In fact, this whole issue reminds me of the asbestos industry in the 1950s and 1960s when there already was evidence that asbestos was damaging people's lungs but the regulatory officials of the day swept it under the rug and didn't do anything about it and continued to sell asbestos," he said.
As for the potential drop in property values, which Industry Canada does not take into account in its decision, that would amount to "expropriation without compensation" in the words of Westcot Place resident Bill Holmes.
Still, a few swam against the current and suggested the lack of coverage in West Vancouver is worth adding a few more cell towers to the ones already on the North Shore, and that the level of radiation coming from the would-be towers is far lower than what people expose themselves to on a daily basis.
After reminding attendees that it is Industry Canada's decision to make, Mayor Michael Smith said participants who came out to speak did not do so in vain.
"I want to assure you, we on council listen to the pubic before we make any decisions and we do listen carefully," he said. "We are hoping that both Industry Canada and the province will listen to the feedback from West Vancouver. That's why the district and council is hosting these meetings - so we can provide that input and make sure our voice is heard."
West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country MP John Weston and West Vancouver-Capilano MLA Ralph Sultan were both present for the meeting.
About 100 residents had to be turned away at the door because of the limited time of the event and the capacity of the venue. To accommodate them and anyone else who didn't get a chance to attend the meeting, the district is scheduling a second town hall meeting for Oct. 16 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the seniors' centre. Those turned away Wednesday will be given priority on the speakers' list.
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