Bell Canada may have a hard time convincing Sundridge residents that erecting a 100-foot tall telecommunications tower in the middle of town is a good idea.
Prior to a Bell representative presenting the proposal to council Wednesday, Mayor Lyle Hall held a town hall-style meeting during which the 10-storey, $700,000 tower dominated the discussion.
The meeting was held via Zoom and not one member of the public who spoke on the subject liked the idea of a tower going up at 10 John St., located behind the Foodland grocery store, other businesses and homes.
One of those residents, identified only as Don, wanted to know why Bell chose that site rather than one away from the downtown.
While some residents addressed the aesthetics of the tower, calling it an eyesore, others are worried about the health impact of the structure.
“I'm a little nervous about the material I've read,” said Sherrie Berdusco, president of the Lake Bernard Property Association.
Another resident, identified only as Lauren, said she was “worried about the EMF (electric and magnetic fields) radiation hitting my children.”
Following the town hall, Matthew Milligan, a senior advisor at Bell's real estate division, told council the tower is needed because of the number of people who have abandoned their landline for cell service.
The existing cell tower infrastructure “doesn't have the capacity to meet the wireless need in Sundridge,” Milligan said.
“When there's overcapacity, it takes longer for data to go through and access can be intermittent,” Milligan said, resulting in slower upload and download speeds.
And it's going to get worse, he warned.
“A new site is urgently needed in Sundridge to address capacity,” Milligan said. “The network continues to erode (and) the erosion will impact the quality of life and challenge businesses to stay connected. You might not notice it until things get really bad.”
Addressing health and safety concerns expressed during the town hall, Milligan said the 4G tower Bell is proposing complies with Health Canada's safety standards, known as Safety Code 6.
He also stressed that Bell wants to work with council and residents to alleviate their concerns.
When asked why Bell couldn't use its existing towers to improve local cell services, Milligan said they won't support the 12 antennas the company has proposed be added in the community.
When Coun. Steve Rawn reiterated concerns over radiation, Milligan said Bell complies with safety rules set by Health Canada, suggesting people should speak with their local health authorities rather than getting their information online.
With all councillors opposed to the proposed site, Milligan said Bell could talk with the town about an alternative and return with a new proposal in two to four weeks.
He also said it's premature for the village to decline the proposal at this time, because there hasn't been any public consultation by Bell.
He pointed out that Innovation, Science and Economic Canada, formerly Industry Canada, says public consultations must take place.
Once Bell begins the public consultation process by notifying and detailing the proposal to local residents, the public has 30 days to comment. Bell then has to acknowledge the local residents' comments within 14 days and has a further 60 days to address comments from the broader public.
Sundridge council will formally debate Bell's proposal at its Feb. 10 meeting, which also may address Milligan's suggestion for an alternative site.
Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative, The North Bay Nugget