Many Chernoff Drive area neighbours say they support community radio.
But most of the 40-some residents who attended a June 25 community information meeting about the possible construction of a 40-metre radio tower in their neighbourhood were opposed to the project.
A number of those present at the Local Trust Committee-sponsored (LTC) meeting at the Community Hall went so far as to ask the Gabriola Radio Society (GRS) directly to drop their plan to erect the tower.
After a brief presentation by GRS President Ken Zakreski on the history of Gabriola Radio (CKGI at 98.7 on the FM band) and the benefits of alternative media, Planner Chloe Fox explained that the LTC’s power in the application is limited to hearing input from community members, and passing along a recommendation to Industry Canada (IC). She said that the final decision is up to IC.
Can’t say no
The LTC’s options, Fox said, are to concur with the application, or to work with the applicant until they have concurrence. She said if they are at a stalemate, “one party can request a mediation process”.
Asked by meeting attendee Nancy Hetherington Peirce if the LTC has “the option of giving an answer that would end the discussion with no”, Fox said IC “would then step in”.
LTC Chair David Graham said “land use arguments” would be the most valuable to the LTC. He said they were thinking just of the “tower without anything connected to it”. He said appropriate comments the LTC could respond to were “environmental impacts, visual impacts, aesthetic concerns, and that sort of thing”.
Nevertheless, a number of neighbours responded to a comment by Zakreski that at 60 watts the radiation from the tower is “safer than sunshine”. They cited health concerns about emissions from the tower.
Meeting attendees also expressed concerns about the environmental impacts of the tower on McGuffy’s Swamp, which is close to the proposed tower location. Trustee Sheila Malcolmson said the LTC has received some information on this from GRS. She said she would appreciate input on whether the information is satisfactory.
Neighbours also disagreed with a suggestion from the proponent that painting the pole to look like a ‘lightning-blasted’ tree would make it blend into its surroundings, or that it would have no impact on their property values. Meeting attendee Mike Phillips said the tower will be 15 stories high and will be visible from many areas of the island.
Zakreski said he didn’t see the tower as unsightly. He said they could have gone with a cheaper “guyed tower”, but that would have been ugly, and wouldn’t stand up to an earthquake. He said radio frequencies have been around for decades and are safe. Asked who would be liable if that turns out not to be so, Zakreski assumed it would be the government but didn’t know for sure.
Asked about financing and costs, Zakreski said GRS proposed to be funded by the community through donations and possibly through the tax base. He said as a last resort, “if the community doesn’t fund us in a manner that we can operate, we would have to then sell advertising”.
Asked if they should not first hold a referendum to see if the community supports them, Zakreski said when they asked the Province about whether they could be supported through taxes, a policy analyst told them “the community should be able to hear the station“ before going to referendum.
Regional Director Howard Houle said he asked for feedback on whether Gabriolans are willing to pay $60,000 per year towards the radio station. He said most respondents were vehemently opposed. He said he would not agree to adding the station to the tax base without a referendum. He noted that a referendum costs $17,000.
Meeting attendee Teresa Beers asked what the landowners will receive in compensation for giving the GRS a right-of-way (ROW) on their property. Zakreski said they have a “verbal agreement” with the landowner, and are offering a one-time fee of $30,000 for two acres. He said they have not yet raised that money. He said the entire budget for the tower would be $320,000 or more, and didn’t think GRS would have a problem raising it.
Asked whether donations to the GRS are tax-deductible, Zakreski said no.
Phillips said the fundraising methods proposed by GRS were “not going to work”, which left renting out space on the tower to commercial venues as “the only option” for income. He said if the tower goes forward it “… will be festooned with junk, blighting our island forever, for no benefit at all for Gabriola”. He added that a start-up cost of $320,000 for a membership of 20 people was “mindboggling”.
Heatherington-Peirce asked the size of the GRS membership, whether the membership has the ability to reverse the decision to build a tower, and how one becomes a member. Zakreski said there are currently over 20 members. He said the membership could withdraw the application, and one has to pay a $20 fee to become a member.
In response to a suggestion by Zakreski that the tower could be used by emergency services, Houle said that the Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) has four fire hall antennae on a tower on Gabriola. He said if they have to move and GRS builds the tower on Chernoff, the RDN would consider it as a site, but they would also consider Mt Benson. He said they would get better coverage from Mt. Benson.
Meeting attendee Leslie Hazeldine asked if GRS would consider a covenant “running with the land” to never expand the use of the tower beyond their own use as an FM band, Zakreski said as they only have a ROW he didn’t think they could make such a covenant. He said there is no one currently proposing to be on the tower. He said the GRS has published a list of people they would be willing to partner with. He said tower’s “density”– or the number of groups or businesses that could use the tower – is “limited by its height”, and didn’t know who else would want to use the tower.
Best of poor coverage
Phillips said that GRS has rejected siting their antenna on existing towers because the station would not reach the entire island through them. But he noted that the engineering report in the application GRS made to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) said the “terrain of the island and the location of many homes are such that the real estate coverage will be significantly restricted to many areas”. He said GRS has posed the Chernoff site as “the only place on Gabriola that can do the job properly”, but it will actually only do part of the job, and “is in fact nothing more than the best choice of a bad lot”.
Asked if the GRS would find another location if the landowners on Chernoff withdrew their support of the tower, or if they could use Mt. Benson, Zakreski said they “can move a little bit”. However, he said the CKGI radio signal from Mt. Benson would interfere with Roger’s coverage. Asked if GRS could use a directional antennae on Mt Benson, he said it wasn’t practical.
He said if the society can’t erect the tower on Chernoff, “we would just go down the street and see where we can find a pipe on a pole”. He said they would then erect a tower that was under 25 metres tall. Trustee Sheila Malcolmson explained that towers under 25 metres in height, such as the one at Silva Bay, can be erected without the need for any community input.
Asked if the GRS would respect a referendum that found the majority of the island was against the tower, Zakreski said they will “abide by the decision of those in authority”. Asked if they will withdraw if the LTC says no to their application, Zakreski said they will abide by Industry Canada’s decision.
Meeting attendee Nick Doe asked why the GRS is proposing a horizontally-polarised rather than a vertically-polarised antenna. He said most car antennae are vertical. Zakreski said he didn’t know why the engineer made that choice.
Asked why a Gabriola community radio station is needed when CHLY is operating in Nanaimo, Zakreski said the two communities have distinct cultures. “You don’t go to Nanaimo to speak to Gabriola”, he said.
Asked if he, personally, “would want to be living in the shadow of that antenna” by a meeting attendee who said that when asked in the past Zakreski has said “absolutely not”, Zakreski said “you have to look at both sides of the issue to answer that question – what are the benefits and what are the detractions. The detractions are change: it’s different, something new, you don’t understand it, in a lot of cases you don’t know where it’s going to go, you don’t know whether it’s going to be loud and noisy …” A number of people walked out of the meeting at that point, and he stopped answering that question.
In response to a note that not all Gabriolans are up to date on the application to the CRTC who, one meeting attendee said, is the only entity to whom Gabriolans can appeal who can actually make a difference, the LTC agreed to keep a copy of that and other information on the GRS proposal at the desk at the Islands Trust Office on North Road.
Malcolmson also said that the LTC would not be holding a referendum on the issue, which meant “who really cares about the issue on both sides” will be who they hear from. She said the deadline for input is July 25, and that written input is the best.
This article was corrected July7: An RDN referendum would cost $17,000, not $70,000.
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