Algonquin Highlands council has deferred a decision over a proposed 60-metre cell tower slated for Oxtongue Lake, calling on Rogers – the company behind the project – to attend a future meeting to address concerns that have been levelled against a public consultation process the company initiated in February.

The tower, slated for installation at 4539 Hwy. 60, is the latest proposal as part of the Eastern Ontario Regional Network (EORN) Cell Gap Project. Addressing council March 16, planner Sean O’Callaghan said the project adhered to municipal policy and recommended its approval.

He noted the township had received numerous letters of objection from residents in the area, with complaints centering on the proposed tower’s location – in the middle of a dense residential area and popular tourism destination.

Jim Sale, speaking on behalf of the Oxtongue Lake Association (OLA), admitted service improvements are needed in the area, but asked that Rogers consider finding a different location.

“People live and/or visit our community in order to enjoy the beautiful natural surroundings year-round… it’s important to us that if another tower is required to service our area, that you do everything you can to ensure the tower is in a location that is hidden from view so that it does not disturb the natural beauty of the area,” Sale wrote in a letter to council.

“We are most concerned about the views from Ragged Falls, Oxtongue Lake, and the Oxtongue River and you have selected a location that is smack dab in the middle of all three. As the proposed tower is at a high point, and 60-metres tall, there is a high probability it will be visible from pretty much everywhere in our community,” he added.

In response, Eric Belchamber, representing Rogers, noted towers are required “where people live, work and play” to be effective. He said Rogers has specific criteria it must meet under the Cell Gap Project guidelines, with individual towers forming part of a wider system designed to improve connectivity for 99 per cent of rural residents across eastern Ontario.

O’Callaghan noted Rogers doesn’t consider aesthetics when narrowing down locations for its towers.

Coun. Sabrina Richards said she was concerned this application didn’t adhere to the township’s existing cell tower policy.

“It says towers should be located one kilometre from the nearest residential unit… there are nine surrounding residences within a 500-metre radius [of this proposed site],” Richards said. “Our policy also states [towers] should be camouflaged or designed to blend in and fit with the context of the surrounding area. There’s nothing in the application discussing that.”

O’Callaghan noted the policy does encourage towers to be located outside residential areas where possible but doesn’t outlaw them. He added that camouflaged towers such as monopine units aren’t feasible for this project due to their smaller size, which reduces service area.

Mayor Liz Danielsen said she had spoken with representatives from the OLA who expressed concern over the way the public consultation process was handled. O’Callaghan noted there were approximately 20 people at a virtual meeting held by Rogers Feb. 7.

“It was deemed not to be as consultative as folks were looking for, and was more informative,” Danielsen said, noting that in her role on the EORN board she would be advocating for better communication practices moving forward.

She suggested that council require Rogers to attend a future meeting to address these concerns before the project is approved, which was passed unanimously.

Moving forward, Coun. Lisa Barry feels the township should take on a more active role in assisting companies with finding appropriate locations for cell towers.

“We could identify areas where they would instantly receive pre-approval. There is an understanding that we’re going to need more towers, but they need to be in respectable places,” she said. “We need to find a way to meet people’s needs for services without impacting [our natural areas].”