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Growing Community Concern about Legion Radio Tower Siting

    Editorial & Opinions    May 15, 2019

A week before the April 30th Salt Spring Local Trust Committee meeting, islanders learned that a 144-foot tall Capital Region Emergency Service Telecommunications (CREST) radio tower was in the final stages of approval for construction at the Legion in Ganges, and that 4G and eventually 5G cellular antennas would likely be added to this tower.

In just seven days, a grassroots group of over 400 Salt Spring parents, elders, farmers, environmentalists, legal and health care professionals, and more, sent letters, signed petitions, rallied, and attended the April Trust meeting. This group voiced their concerns that this tower was being built in such close proximity to our island’s most vulnerable and, as stated by Gary Holman in his March 26, 2019 CRD Director’s report, that “cell service may be co-located to the tower” and that this “may have potential health impacts.”

The group also recommended we offer our emergency service providers the best communications system possible by connecting safe, speedy, and secure wired fiber optics directly to all base stations. They suggested we have reliable back-up generators in place at all critical infrastructure locations to prevent the power-grid system breakdowns that occurred as a result of last December’s windstorm, and that we reserve less cyber-secure wireless communication for mobile use.

 Summary of Community Concerns

Co-location

At the April 30 meeting, CREST Director Gord Horth said co-location of other wireless and cellular equipment at this site is highly probable. Canadian federal telecommunications policy does not allow public consultation or local government input to occur when additional equipment is placed on an existing structure. Other antennas added to the CREST tower will result in a mix of radio, microwave, and potentially millimeter wave frequencies (5G) that has not been tested for public safety. As stated in the minutes of the April 11th, 2019 Trust Advisory Planning Commission, where this tower siting was reviewed: “Health Canada guidelines regarding antenna siting are inadequate.”

Federal Public Notification Requirements were Breached

The flyer CREST distributed to those working and living near the Legion was missing 10 of the 12 notification items required by Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED), the body that regulates antenna siting in Canada. It also violated four of ISED’s general consultation procedures.

The flyer did not have the required wording on its face, notifying residents they were living within a specific radius of a proposed antenna system. Inside it asked, “What exactly is being installed above the Fire hall?” revealing it was a copy and paste production with content that did not apply to Salt Spring. This flyer did not tell residents how they could submit comments in writing, and that they had 30 days to do so. It did not mention there would be flashing LED lights on the tower as required.

Because the public notification process did not follow federal requirements, the Islands Trust has a clear directive for issuing a letter of non-concurrence to ISED for this project.

Aesthetics & Health

As stated by Trust Representative Laura Patrick at the April 30 meeting, the proposed 144-foot mono-pole will be an eyesore in Ganges. Numerous studies (eg. Santini et al) warn of decreased health being proportional to proximity to non-natural radiofrequency (RF) radiation transmitters. The Trust’s 2001 Antenna Siting policy states that antennas must be placed 500 meters from where there is continuous human activity.

Environmental Impacts

Adverse effects related to RF radiation have been found in a wide range of wildlife including amphibians, birds, insects, fish and mammals. RF radiation at ambient levels can disorient birds. (Environment International. 51:116–40, Front Behav Neurosci. 10:55). Of particular concern are effects, both thermal and non-thermal, of millimeter waves on insects. (Scientific Reports. 8(1):3924). A study on trees found that they were visibly damaged on the sides nearest cell tower antennas. (Sci. Total Environ. 572:554–69).

A major 2016 field study on insect pollinators and cell towers found that abundance and composition of beetles, wasps and hoverflies were negatively affected. The authors conclude: “… these changes …associated with electromagnetic smog may have important ecological and economic impacts on the pollination service that could significantly affect the maintenance of wild plant diversity, crop production and human welfare.” (J Insect Conserv. 20(2):315–24)

The Precautionary Principle & our Community Plan

Salt Spring’s Official Community Plan states:

“When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause-and-effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context, the essential elements of a precautionary approach to decision-making include:

  1. a duty to take anticipatory action to prevent harm;
  2. the right for the community to know complete and accurate information on potential human health and environmental impacts as best it can be determined;
  3. requiring the proponent to supply this information to the public;”

Data Privacy and Cyber Security

As revealed by University of Pennsylvania researchers, the P25 system CREST is installing is easily hackable and leaves us vulnerable to cyber attack. It is part of an integrated North American interconnected voice, image, and data system that will connect Salt Spring to the US government-owned FirstNet, and may be used as part of surveillance architecture.

Connecting the Dots

The CREST tower siting decision we are now making reaches beyond improving local emergency services. Although the VHF frequencies CREST uses penetrate deeply and travel far, they are not 5G, but federal policy permits the siting of this tower to open the door to 5G on Salt Spring.

In Europe, jurisdictions such as Brussels, Belgium, Florence, Italy and the Cantons of Geneva, Vaud and Neuchâtel in Switzerland are issuing decrees calling for moratoriums on the rollout of 5G technology until the health effects are better understood. In the USA, tough battles are being waged to retain local control over antenna placement. Experience shows that once radio and cell antennas are in place, it is difficult to have them removed.

Clearly, we need to hit the “pause” button on this proposed CREST tower siting so we may fully understand its possible, probable, or known adverse health, security, and environmental consequences. As a community we can find safer solutions.

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