News Local

Residents concerned about Bell comm tower

By Miriam King, QMI Agency

Bell Mobility presented its plans for a 40 metre tall telecommunications tower in Alcona at a public meeting, on June 20 and faced strong public opposition, including a 200 name petition against the proposal.

The free-standing microwave tower is being proposed for Innisfil Beach Park, in a treed area behind the Alcona fire hall and within 300 metres of both an established residential area and the park's toboggan hill.

And that, said resident Brian Durkin, violates the town's own policy on communications towers, a policy which states such structures should not be located within 300 metres of residential areas.

Durkin said there are roughly 65 residences within 300 metres of the proposed cell tower, 356 within 500 metres of the location.

"Why is the town not following its own guidelines?" Durkin asked, adding that his chief concern was exposure to radio signals and microwave radiation, especially for children using the toboggan hill, which would be less than 80 metres from the structure.

He also took issue with town's notification of the public meeting. Durkin told council that the there was no sign on the property by the firehall advising of the meeting, the information was not on the digital sign at the firehall and although it was on the digital sign at the Innisfil Town Hall, the message "doesn't say anything about a cell tower, doesn't say anything about Innisfil Beach Park. I think this is a clear effort to minimize public involvement."

Durkin asked if Bell had considered alternative sites which would have less impact on residents. He suggested the water pollution control plant, an area already zoned industrial, with fewer than 10 homes within 300 metres.

The town also heard from Shelley Wright, who has been diagnosed with EMF sensitivity: extreme sensitivity to wireless radiation.

Although she lives one kilometre from the proposed tower, she told the meeting, "My health could be severely compromised by a cell tower in

proximity to my home... With every exposure my sensitivities appear to be getting worse."

Wright and her family had moved to the area specifically to be far from sources of radiation. "No one came to my house with information about this tower. No one asked if it is okay," she said. By placing the highly visible tower in the park, "you are basically strapping me to a giant cell phone I can never turn off."

One speaker supported the new mobile phone tower. John Wright complained of poor reception for his cell phone, and said, "I think the addition of a tower is quite needed in this area."

But Marie Martin, a long-time cottager whose cottage is almost directly across from the site on Innisfil Beach Road, expressed the sentiments of the majority when she told councillors, "The park has been a very beautiful place, very loved and enjoyed. Why does this have to be in the park? We should be protecting the park. It's a park, not a business area."

Town staff, who had recommended supporting the Bell Mobility application, confirmed that the tower would be only 85 metres from the toboggan hill, and would necessitate some tree-cutting for the enclosed compound, but insisted a sign had been placed at the property, although it may have been removed.

James Kennedy, a spokesperson for Bell, said the company has been looking for an Alcona site to improve its cell and wireless service in the area.

Its nearest transmitter is in the Town of Georgina, across Lake Simcoe.

He agreed that the company would be willing to look at other locations, "within a kilometre."

Coun. Lynn Dollin noted that a similar situation arose in Thornton, where a tower was initially proposed for a heavily populated area and an alternative site was eventually found.

The town's policy on telecommunications was written after that debate.

Telecommunications towers are a federal responsibility, but Industry Canada recently changed its rules to require consultation with the local decision-making body.