Iqaluit councillors question Bell Mobility cell tower proposal
Bell Mobility favours cellphone tower next to Qikiqtani Hospital
A proposal from Bell Mobility to build a cellphone tower next to Qikiqtani General Hospital in Iqaluit drew an avalanche of questions from the city’s planning and development committee of the whole, Sept. 5.
Left in the dark without clear answers, city councillors agreed unanimously to send the proposal back to the telecom giant for more information.
As the city grows, “there will probably be more demand for such towers. So I would suggest that Bell talk to us,” said Coun. Joanasie Akumalik, echoing the opinion of all five other councillors attending the meeting.
Bell Mobility’s proposal to build a 35-metre-high tower to transmit cellular phone communications also includes three alternative sites, clustered just north of the “preferred” site behind Qikiqtani Hospital.
The telecom company “indicated to us that this would improve their service within the centre of the city,” said Jennifer Catarino, acting director of planning and development, who presented the plan to city council committee for discussion.
Bell’s original plan was to install smaller transmitters on top of the eight-storey Astro Hill complex at the centre of Iqaluit, she said. When that possibility fell through, the company decided that the site behind the hospital “is probably the closest equivalent,” Catarino told the committee.
Such a tower could also include communications equipment for other companies, she said, eliminating the need to build smaller installations throughout the city.
Councillors were quick to say that the city must set up guidelines on cellphone tower construction that account for safety concerns and keep up with advances in technology. Compared with other territories and provinces, Nunavut cellphone service lags far behind.
Catarino said she believes an upgrade to a higher speed data network for 4G phones could be part of the plan behind the new tower.
As far as safety, some councillors said setting up a tower next to the territorial hospital is a bad idea.
“Health Canada estimates cell phone tower radiation can be linked to headaches, heart conditions, Alzheimer’s, memory loss, cancer,” said Coun. Terry Dobbin. “My only concern is, it’s really close to a hospital.
“Even though it’s said exposure from cellphone towers are well below Health Canada exposure standards, there is a risk,” he said.
Coun. Kenny Bell agreed. “People work in the hospital. There are sick people there that are already at a disadvantage, especially those that stay for longer periods of time,” he said.
“There are babies born in the hospital,” he continued. “For these reasons I have a concern about their preferred location.”
Catarino’s memo about Bell Mobility’s proposal to the committee says the residence closest to the proposed tower, as well as a daycare centre are “more than 150 metres away.” Dobbin and Bell wondered why the distance is mentioned.
“I can only imagine there is some kind of risk,” Bell said.
The preferred location for the tower, which appears to be not more than 50 metres north of the hospital, would take up a 10-by-10-metre plot, to be surrounded by a high fence, according to Catarino.
Councillors Romeyn Stevenson and Mark Morrissey pointed out that the preferred site lies on a well-travelled snowmobile trail. Bell added that the area is favoured for berry-picking in the summer.
Asked about the three alternate sites, Catarino said just one of the three is feasible. Steep terrain at “option 3” and other uses at “option 1” have ruled these out. All three are located between the Qulliq Energy Corp. power station and the Plateau subdivision.
“Based on our discussions around this table, we should really develop a planning strategy (for cell towers),” Coun. Mary Wilman commented. The city should be ready for more such requests from cellphone companies, she said. “So we should be proactive in identifying areas that are suitable for this.”
A motion calling for Bell Mobility to answer the committee’s questions, proposed by Morrissey, passed unanimously.