Letter to the Editor – Riley Donovan

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This morning, I read Helen Grond’s piece in the Driftwood on Hornby Island’s cell tower controversy. I was struck by the similarity between the irregularities in the Rogers application process she described, and our own experience with Rogers on Salt Spring Island. 

As Grond notes in her piece, there is significant opposition to the planned 258-foot cell tower in the heart of Hornby. Concerned citizens have held three public information meetings over the last year, and over 300 Hornby islanders have signed a petition against this project – roughly a quarter of the total population. 

To date, neither Rogers nor the Islands Trust has held a public meeting on the planned Hornby tower. Innovation, Science, and Economic Development (ISED), the federal department responsible for regulating cell tower installations, requires that land-use consultations be completed within 120 days of “the proponent’s initial formal contact with the local land-use authority”.

Official notice of intent was published on November 1st, 2022, meaning that the consultation period technically expired 120 days later, on March 20th, 2023. No consultation has taken place in the time period laid out in the ISED guidelines, which raises the question of why this project has not been cancelled by the Trust. 

All of this is remarkably similar to the Rogers application process for a 131-foot, 5g enabled cell tower in the Channel Ridge region of Salt Spring this past spring, which I reported on at the time in a series of articles for the Islands Marketplace. 

Having initially approved the application, Salt Spring’s Local Trust Committee (LTC) rescinded concurrence on March 23rd, alleging that Rogers failed in numerous instances to follow the Islands Trust draft Model Public Consultation Protocol for Local Trust Areas. 

The LTC alleged that Rogers failed to hold an in-person public meeting despite a request to do so, never suggested alternative tower sites, and negotiated a land use agreement with the Onni Group (the Vancouver real estate company which owns the cell tower site) 11 months before approaching the LTC. 

Particularly egregious was the LTC allegation that Rogers omitted mention of archaeological sites including shell middens, lithic scatters, a hearth feature, and two petroglyph rock art boulders.

The decision of the LTC to rescind concurrence was eventually overruled by ISED, on the basis of the mother of all technicalities: the Trust protocol was still in draft form. This despite the fact that in the very first sentence of its application, Rogers claimed that its consultation process had been completed following said draft protocol. 

A disturbing pattern of behaviour is beginning to emerge in the way that Rogers approaches cell tower installations in small west coast communities. Without a proper public consultation process in which concern can be expressed about cell tower projects, residents are left voiceless and disenfranchised. 

If cell tower siting is carried out without a transparent, democratic process, communities may have only one recourse left: peaceful civil disobedience. 

Riley Donovan is an independent journalist and columnist living on Salt Spring Island. You can follow him on Twitter @valdombre