Towers desperately needed

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I have spent a considerable amount of time over the past two-plus years writing about cell towers.

The recipe is generally the same: application comes before council; nearby residents voice their opposition; elected officials debate issues they are explicitly told, by the federal governing body, that they should not consider – things like impact on property values, aesthetic concerns of would-be neighbours, alleged dangers to one’s health; then the project is, eventually, approved.

This week’s Highlander serves up a three-course meal covering all angles of the cell tower issue. In Algonquin Highlands, a local couple has taken exception to the proposed installation of a 91.5 metre tower to be installed on the north side of Boshkung Lake. They say the structure will destroy the “naturally scenic beauty” of the lake and called on Rogers – the company applying to install it – to consider alternate locations.

In short, they are happy for the tower installation to proceed so long as it’s away from their property. Out of sight, out of mind. It’s NIMBYism at its finest.

It should be noted that Stephen Orr, owner of Buttermilk Falls Resort, also addressed Algonquin Highlands council last week, advocating on behalf of the tower’s installation. Not everyone is against them.

Rogers is proposing to construct between 30 and 40 new towers across Haliburton County as part of the Eastern Ontario Regional Network’s $300 million cell gap project. The initiative is designed to improve cellular coverage, connectivity, and capacity for people in the region by 2025.

In my opinion, these towers are desperately needed.

I can appreciate that people who have invested considerable sums into buying their slice of rural paradise don’t want to have to look at an ugly, out-of-place steel rod that stretches hundreds of feet into the air. But, as I’ve written before about the area’s housing crisis and the opposition to projects in that file – which would benefit the wider community – we need to consider the greater good.

Haliburton County is growing. There’s no getting away from that. And with that growth comes a necessity to provide enhanced services. Rogers representative, Christian Lee, said it best when telling Algonquin Highlands council last week the availability of cellular service will soon be seen as being as equally important to people as having access to electricity. To many, it already is.

As we move into a more technological world, it’s imperative we aren’t left behind.

There are safety issues to consider too. As someone who has done a considerable amount of driving around the County, I can tell you first-hand how many cellular ‘dead zones’ exist. One of the worst stretches is County Road 21 between Haliburton and Minden.

While it’s an inconvenience to have calls drop while commuting, I have often wondered what would happen if an animal came running out of the woods in front of my vehicle, or I hit a patch of black ice, while travelling through one of these dead zones. I’d be up creek without a paddle.

There are some reasons why a particular tower site may not be appropriate, mostly environmental – if it’s disturbing a recognized wetland, or displacing species of significance. But in most cases, Rogers has done its homework.

Locations have been strategically chosen to serve as part of a wider network, to eradicate the many dangerous dead zones. I had previously advocated for the installation of monopine structures – smaller tree-like towers that better fit our natural surroundings. I have since been told that would not be feasible – going that route would take EORN’s $300 million project well into the billions, and government would not support that. So, it’s this or nothing.

Not everyone will agree, and I’ve no doubt I’ll continue to see objections to future tower site locations. But I think it’s high time we all got with the program and embraced a project that stands to benefit us all.