Wednesday, December 26, 2007

New Church Tower No Cause For Cell-ebration

It must have seemed a good idea at the time. Bell Canada would put up a cellphone tower on church property, the Guildwood community would get improved phone service for their cell phones and blackberies, and the Church would make some welcomed income. Everybody wins.

However, the 150 people who jammed the Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church just before Christmas, clearly disagreed. The meeting had been called by officials from Bell and Industry Canada, the federal agency that governs telecommunications, to reassure residents that electromagnetic radiation from the tower would pose no health threat and that the tower will look like a flagpole. Although at 37 metres in height, that would make for a very large flagpole indeed. One with a large shed at its base.

The deal had been reached between the Church and Bell Canada in back in April, but residents, only learned about it on Nov. 8th, after Bell sent letters to about 70 homeowners in the area informing them the tower would be built in the new year. Ward 43 Councilor, Paul Ainslie, told the meeting the city has developed a protocol requiring telecommunications carriers to consult with the municipality on tower locations as of January 1, 2008, but it couldn't be backdated to this tower and wouldn't be binding on cell companies.

Under the Radio Communications Act, Industry Canada has the final authority to approve the location of telecommunication towers and antennae. Municipal zoning by-laws do not have to be considered. A court decision on March 2, 2007 determined that telecommunication installations are not subject to site plan control since they are a Federal undertaking.

Many people at the meeting were also angry that no church officials showed up to explain why they made a 20-year lease deal with Bell without first informing the community.

In the past, the City of Toronto Board of Health have noted concerns that existing guidelines may not be health protective for continuous lifetime exposure to radio frequency (RF) electromagnetic levels and that several jurisdictions have adopted stricter limits than those in Canada. In 1999, the Board of Health recommended a prudent avoidance policy that RF waves from telecommunication towers and antennas be 100 times below Safety Code 6 in areas where people normally spend time. The Medical Officer of Health has recommended that the City collect data from cell phone carriers on predicted RF levels of proposed towers and antennas to allow the City to monitor the potential impact of proposed telecommunication facilities in Toronto.

Bell officials reassured residents that testing done at the base of other towers showed the electromagnetic radiation is "thousands of times" lower than acceptable levels; however, many at the meeting distrusted the claim. Others felt that even if the tower was not a health threat, they didn't want a flagpole more than twice as high as the church steeple towering over their community.

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