Telus is taking a second look at where to put a controversial Slocan Valley cell tower
Jim Johannson, director of public consultation for Telus wireless networks, said in a letter to local politicians that due to concerns from residents over a proposed site on private land off Wishloff Road in Winlaw, they are exploring alternatives.
“We recognize Winlaw residents are divided on the issue so we want to make sure we fully consider all options for the location of this cell site,” he wrote. “This will require additional field work, analysis, and design, which will take some time given the broader context of our plans to expand cell service to highway corridors across the province.”
As a result, he said they are deferring work in Winlaw until later in the project.
The company plans to bring continuous cell coverage to Highway 6, which it expects will require up to 14 towers: a half dozen between South Slocan and Nakusp, another half dozen between Nakusp and Vernon, and two between Nelson and Salmo.
However, some Winlaw residents say the proposed tower is too close to homes and worry about health risks from electromagnetic radiation. They also say putting it on private land could be divisive in the community.
Last month a Telus representative who spoke before the Regional District of Central Kootenay and met with residents pledged to hold a public meeting in Winlaw.
Corporate spokesman Shawn Hall said they will make good on that but want to get a handle on all their options first. He couldn’t promise the tower won’t be built off Wishloff Road.
“It might turn out that is the only site that works for us. We don’t really know yet,” he told 103. The Bridge. “We’re going to look at all possible sites. Whether we partner with a private landowner or the province, either way the public consultation is the same.”
Hall added they have already looked at some suggested alternatives, but ruled them out. He said the towers need to be within a few kilometers of the area they serve and line-of-sight, because the signal doesn’t go around bends. “So we’re looking for sites that have a good view over the highway corridor without a lot of interference. This is a challenging corridor to do that in.”
Slocan Valley regional director Walter Popoff said he’s glad to hear the company isn’t rushing ahead with its Winlaw tower.
“My position is it’s good to have cell service along public highways because there are safety issues,” he said. “It would be a definite benefit to our fire halls and ability to respond to accidents. But if this is deferred and they take a second look at the location of the towers, it’s of benefit to the community.”
However, he thinks the entire valley should have the same opportunity at consultation. He said he recently received a call from an Enterprise Creek resident concerned a tower is planned for her neighbour’s property and suggested if Telus hosts a public meeting, the entire valley should be invited.
Another regional district director is also concerned about the public process in his area. Rural Salmo director Hans Cunningham said only one or two families live close to a proposed tower near Porto Rico, but it could have a potentially greater effect. He said he isn’t sure how the public feels about it.
“You always hear from the people who are strong one way or the other. I have heard from half a dozen on both sides,” he said. “But what I really need is a meeting so I can gauge the feeling of the public and get an idea where this thing should go and how.”
Cunningham says such a meeting should be up to Telus, since it’s their proposal.
Another tower is planned for private land around Cottonwood Lake, which falls in director Ramona Faust’s area. While she supports providing cell service to that area, which is also near home to the Apex ski area, she said without a public meeting she’s uncomfortable stating the regional district has no concerns.