Dysart et al council has abolished its Policy 38 – legislation that outlined rules and regulations for the installation of cell towers within the municipality.
Following a heated discussion March 28 members voted unanimously to rescind the policy, just moments after approving a new 75-metre tower for Elephant Lake Road. Part of the Eastern Ontario Regional Network’s Cell Gap project, the structure will provide 5G-level service to residents surrounding Benoir Lake.
It became the second tower site to receive approval in Dysart, after the previous council gave the green light for a similar structure to be installed on Minnicock Lake Road. In attendance virtually Tuesday, EORN CEO Jason St. Pierre said there will be 13 new towers erected in Dysart as part of his organization’s plan to improve cell connectivity for 99 per cent of residents across eastern Ontario.
Ward 3 Coun. Tammy Donaldson took exception to this latest application, saying she had issues with the way Rogers’ site acquisition specialist, Jeff McKay, handled a public consultation session March 14. She said most of the 16 attendees were against the tower’s location on Elephant Lake Road, with up to 10 alternate site proposals pitched by the public falling on deaf ears.
McKay retorted the chosen site had a “better than nine out of 10 score” for addressing outlined stipulations for an EORN project. He said the other sites proposed by residents during the meeting weren’t a good fit,
“At this location we are capturing hundreds of additional subscribers into a strong 5G coverage radius… we wouldn’t get that if we moved it,” he said. “Relocations as small as 50 metres can have a dramatic effect on who receives service and who doesn’t.”
Donaldson said the tower didn’t fall in line with the municipal policy, which recommends sites be located at least one kilometre away from residences and be camouflaged. She noted the closest household, which she revealed to be her own, was 264-metres away from the proposed site.
When asked about a potential conflict of interest for Donaldson, CAO Tamara Wilbee told The Highlander it’s the responsibility of individual councillors to declare one. Staff has no input in the decision.
The Municipal Conflict of Interest Act stipulates if a member has an outside pecuniary interest, direct or indirect, in any matter and is present at a meeting of council where the matter is discussed, they should, prior to any discussion, disclose the conflict and recuse themselves from taking part. The act also states that members with a conflict shall not take part in or attempt to influence any vote on the matter.
Donaldson was the lone vote against in a 6-1 decision.
When approached for comment, Donaldson said, “I reached out to the integrity commissioner [after the meeting] to discuss and I do not believe I have a pecuniary interest as the proposed tower is not on my property and I will not gain or lose financially. I felt I was representing constituents who raised concerns.”
Dysart’s integrity commissioner, Tony Fleming of the Kingston-based Cunningham, Swan, Carty, Little and Bonham LLP, is responsible for investigating any alleged breaches of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act. When approached for comment on this situation he said, “it would not be appropriate for me to make comments on allegations of this nature in the press.”
Following the vote, Donaldson pitched that council rescind Policy 38, which has been in place since 2014.
“We might as well not have a policy because nobody is abiding by the one we have,” she said.
Director of planning, Jeff Iles, was seeking council direction regarding updates for the legislation, which he admitted last year was outdated. After council agreed to drop the policy, Iles said the most significant impact moving forward is that tower applicants won’t be required to hold public open house meetings to discuss a proposed project. Instead, correspondence will be collected from the public by letter, responded to, and then submitted to the township for review.