Residents of the North End of New Glasgow, specifically North Provost Street, are calling for answers after a 5G cell tower was erected in the area after residents and the town had expressed their anger and dismay with the tower proposal by Eastlink. The tower was erected on October 27, 2020.
“I think we were all pretty surprised to see it go up,” said resident Antje Hoare. “I was walking home downtown and I saw it… I was probably at the town hall and I could see it from there.”
The white, single pole structure of the 50 ft tower, while minimal compared to the three-legged lattice metal design that was proposed, is still visible to anyone driving along the main road that leads in and out of the town. A public hearing about the tower, which is built on private land leased by Eastlink, was held last year at Glasgow Square. A number of community members as well as town councillors attended the meeting, asked questions, and shared their concerns about how the tower would look, its effect on property values as well as health concerns about the effect of having a tower such as this close to residential areas.
Many residents who attended the meeting were already not pleased with how the project had started as only a small number of people in the area were notified about the meeting and the tower and only after asking questions were others formally notified. After the formal public hearing, with the backing of the community, New Glasgow town council shared its disapproval of the project by drafting a letter of non-concurrence that was sent to the federal body, Canadian Radiocommunications Information and Notification Service (CRINS) after its May 21 regular council meeting. After the public information meeting the town also joined CRINS, which will allow them to have more traction against these issues in the future, however would not help with the current tower proposal.
As the letter of non-concurrence was sent residents — although still worried about the tower — say they believed the town was backing the position of not erecting it in the area.
Just six months after the letter of non-concurrence was sent by the town, a town staff member signed off on approval for the project. According to documents obtained from CRINS by Central Nova MP Sean Fraser and shared with The Advocate, town planner Jeff Turnbull signed the Land Use Authority Recommendation Report for Bragg Communications certifying that the company held public consultation and received conditional approval of the project. According to town councillors, they were unaware that approval had been sent, assuming initially that the project was approved on the federal telecommunications level.
Fraser spoke to The Advocate on Friday, sharing that in his capacity as the federal representative for the area he would follow the consensus of the local area.
“In these decisions, I would always take my lead from the municipality,” Fraser said adding, “I’d be happy to work with the town if there was a mistake on our part.”
Some of the points for conditional approval included: safety measures, the structure of the tower being changed to a monopole, construction permits were completed and the proponent had addressed all relevant concern from the public as stated in Section 9 of the document.
Section 8.1 of the Land Use Authority Recommendation Report includes a summary of comments and issues from the public consultation. The document states: “Comments received revolved around the visual amenity of the tower. The site is located in open view of residential properties and the former industrial buildings were relatively consistent with the skyline of the town.” The small section continued: “While it is recognized that the future of the site is yet to be determined, feedback suggests that reducing the profile of the tower to the minimum possible while allowing the proponent to achieve their technical objectives for coverage and service is desirable.”
The report did not mention the health concerns that the public had raised about the tower.
“Studies are inconclusive, so basically people that live around cell towers are guinea pigs,” said Scott Hoare, Antje’s Hoare’s husband.
“In the end, it was a surprise to everyone,” said Antje about the tower going up.
Turnbull, when contacted about the matter, shared that the town has no authority for approval and shared that after the letter of non-concurrence from town council, the company went back to reassess the situation with the concerns given by the public and applied with the updated monopole structure as a remedy to the situation. It was then, with this application that the Land Use Authority Recommendation Report was created and conditional approval of the construction site was given.
“All the criteria were met, from the town’s end of it; you could do a letter of non-concurrence but you have to have grounds, I believe, to be able to do that… there are no grounds, we can’t just say we don’t like it,” Turnbull said adding that he would certainly rather see the structure elsewhere. He also shared, “council charged the staff with providing that service” — meaning that staff was put in charge of taking care of the matter.
New Glasgow Mayor Nancy Dicks confirmed that as town council does not answer to the Land Use Authority, councillors would not have known that the approval happened and was signed off, despite their earlier non-concurrence letter.
CRINS was contacted for comment and clarification of processes, however, they did not respond as of press time.
As citizens realized what was happening the day construction was underway they were already seeking answers from town councillors about the situation. Clyde Fraser, one of the North End councillors and the only current councillor for the area that was also present at the public hearing, shared his surprise as well. Previously, he had drafted a letter sharing his disapproval of the situation.
“Beyond that circle, we have churches, playgrounds, and schools,” he said in the letter about the radius of notification and possible effect from the tower. He had shared this letter with Eastlink community relations in his capacity as councillor for the area.
Resident Denise Rizzotti shared her disappointment about the situation as well and has been working with other residents to raise awareness about the situation so no one else has to deal with a similar one.
“I was sick to my stomach, shocked, disappointed,” said Rizzotti about seeing the tower going up after she and others thought they had succeeded in warding the structure off the nearby land. “Ultimately I think it should be taken down,” she said.
Rizzotti and others in the area are left wondering why the company even bothered holding the meeting if they did not intend to listen to the community. The report mentioned earlier does state, however, that in order to build the structure the company was required to hold the public hearing.
“Despite all of the efforts by the citizens, the town… none of it mattered,” said Antje.