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GUELPH — A city committee voted unanimously Monday to enact a moratorium on building cell towers in the city, while Canada awaits a review of guidelines that govern exposure to electromagnetic energy created by mobile networks.
But even though the meeting featured discussion among affected residents, an intermediary group and a representative of the telecom companies, the committee’s action carries little weight when it comes to deciding where cell towers will be placed in the city.
City zoning inspector Pat Sheehy said it is Industry Canada — not the city — that gives final approval to carriers seeking to build towers.
“We can concur, or we can choose not to concur, but Industry Canada can still approve the tower.”
So even if the full city council approves a cell tower moratorium at its Dec. 16 meeting, proposed towers at Grange Road and Starwood Drive, Kortright and Edinburgh roads and on Victoria Road could go ahead.
“We’re not the approval (body),” Mayor Karen Farbridge said. “That’s what we’ve been communicating to people.”
The committee’s decision to enact a moratorium was prompted by an approach from the Canadian Radiocommunications Information and Notification Service, a group that offers to act as an intermediary between municipalities, wireless firms and federal regulators when it comes to cell tower approval and construction.
The group’s director, Todd White, told the committee his organization helps cities “manage a public consultation process” and scrutinize proposals by wireless firms to make sure residents are fully aware of where new towers are planned.
He said his group “has become the clearing house of information to the public” regarding cell tower construction in cities where it operates.
The city’s planning, building, engineering and environment committee recommended withholding the city’s approval from all new cell towers until sometime around March 2014 or later, when a committee struck by the Royal Society of Canada will deliver recommendations on whether to update Canada Safety Code 6, which regulates exposure to electromagnetic energy in federally regulated industries.
Sue Lebrecht, who lives in the vicinity of Grange Road and Starwood Drive, where a new cell tower is proposed, urged council to enact a moratorium and accept assistance from the intermediary group.
“I cannot survive the location of a new tower. I’m living on one of those rare spots in city without a tower within one square kilometre,” said Lebrecht who says exposure to radiofrequency energy causes her a range of health problems, ranging from heart palpitations to tinnitus.
But a lawyer representing wireless carriers pointed out that White’s group is not registered as a non-profit, but as a business, and has “caused difficulty” when carriers and cities in New Brunswick began planning for cell towers in that province.
“It’s a pan-Canadian organization attempting to shoehorn itself into these various schemes,” Stephen D’Agostino, a lawyer representing Bell, Rogers and Telus said of White’s group.
White did not respond to his organization’s registration as a business.
D’Agostino didn’t discuss health concerns brought up by several Guelph residents at the meeting.
“I know there’s people here talking about health and I’m not here to talk about health. But what I suggest is that you have a medical officer of health who is equipped to deal with it.”
Another speaker, Dan Welland of Canadians for Safe Technology, told the committee Safety Code 6 is outdated, and even Russia and China have enacted more stringent regulations.
“It’s not applicable to the 21st century and was never meant to protect the Canadian public.”