Town Hall meeting regarding proposed communication tower

Notes from the Sunday 18 August 2013 Town Hall meeting regarding the
proposed public safety communications tower on Heriot Ridge, Quadra
Island.

For more background on events leading up to this meeting, see
Proposed Communication Tower on Heriot Ridge

These notes are arranged in Q&A format in order to distinguish between comments made by the presenters and the audience, even if the Q is not strictly a question.
The attempt here is to report the ideas and issues discussed and not to try to do a transcript. Wordings are paraphrases, not exact; it has organized by topic.
The identities of audience speakers have been left out.

Dave Emery, North Island Communications, the applicant for the land tenure for the tower site, the “landlord” for the proposed tower.
Brian Fentiman, Mgr. RCMP Communication Sys. Vancouver Island District, one of the “tenants” of the proposed tower.

Dave opened by expressing his regrets and an apology that he did not call this public meeting 8 months ago, before he applied for the land use tenure.
Dave is withdrawing his current application for the site (letting it fail) because of community concerns. Dave plans to reapply for a tower site in a different location. This meeting is to get all issues out in the open before going to the expense of submitting a new application. The existing application cannot be amended because it is a change of site.

Conclusion of Meeting

  • Due to concerns expressed about the health effects of microwave radiation, Dave agreed that all microwave transmission from the tower will be done using very narrow beam antennas and that they will be aimed at Campbell River and away from Quadra, and also that
  • No cell phone antennas will be installed on this site. If a cell phone company expresses interest in the tower, they will be referred to Quadra Island.
  • The proposed internet service for Open Bay and Hyacinthe Bay (WiFi AP) will be dropped.
  • Dave and Brian will work with residents who have concerns about radiation to predict, measure, and ensure that they will have no measurable microwave radiation from this tower.
  • Aesthetic issues are important
  • A legal covenant covering community issues including the above is to be included in the land title from Ministry of Forests and NIComm will sign off on this.

Next Steps

  • hire a local biologist to investigate whether there are rare plants in this site
  • survey the new site
  • draw up legal covenant regarding agreements, working with Quadra and the SRD
  • hold another public meeting on the new site when there is a firm proposal
  • reapply for the site from Lands and Forests.

Meeting Notes

The origins of the tower proposal. 911-corp uses pagers to contact First Responders, the Quadra Fire Department, and since the current transmitter location is at Dogwood Tower Site, Campbell River, the pagers do not work well if at all for important parts of Quadra Island. These pagers are VHF, analog signal. They are small devices and they need a certain signal strength to work. 911-corp proposes to install a 25 Watt repeater on the tower. Analog voice, analog pager, one frequency channel only. Quadra gets one or two calls per day.

The RCMP has also had a communications problem due to the Quadra hills blocking signals. The RCMP recently converted its VHF communications from analog to digital which require far better signal strength, making upgrades to improve communication very important. The RCMP is proposing to put a 25 Watt VHF repeater on the tower, using the 150 – 174 MHz band. This would restore communications between officers for the HBI, Heriot Bay, Hyacinthe Bay, and the Spit. Other marginal areas are north Quadra, Cortes, and other islands. All RCMP communication in BC (except Vancouver and Victoria?) uses VHF for better propagation. The only microwave frequencies used are for point to point, with very directional antennas. There is also RCMP communication using commercial cell services (not on this tower).

Brian spent six months analyzing maps trying to find a repeater site on Quadra for RCMP communications. He had three criteria: 1) an existing tower, 2) a power line, and 3) good coverage. At the end, the conclusion was that the south end of Heriot Ridge provided coverage but did not satisfy the first two criteria, and that no other site provided the needed coverage. But both the original and the alternate site on Heriot Ridge are good.

Brian says that if a tower cannot be built on Heriot Ridge, the only alternative is to place multiple communications towers around Quadra. This approach would be far more expensive and would locate the towers closer to the population of Quadra. A hill near the fish hatchery had been suggested, but the coverage there would not be good enough.

Brian has computer modelling software which can predict the coverage from any location. He showed slides of the predicted coverage.

The other major tenant for the communications tower would be the City of Campbell River. They also have had the money for this ready to go. Their need is to connect facilities spread out along the passage, buildings, pumping stations, etc. They would put two directional (6 degree beam width) antennas on the tower, both pointing towards Campbell River. One directed at City Hall, the other directed at the Dogwood tower. This first would be 3.65 GHz and have 0.1 Watt power. The other is 5.5 GHz trunk connection at 0.1 W power.

Those are the three original backers of this project and still the ones which provide the money to do it.
Q. The City of C.R. antenna does not do anything to serve Quadra, can make this tower serve Quadra and the outer islands without involving Campbell River?
Dave: would have to ask the RCMP etc if they could still afford it. It’s doubtful that it would be financially viable.
Q. Since their antennas point away from Quadra, it doesn’t hurt us to have C.R. participation, and having them enables us to increase our public safety.
Q. There is a huge safety increase for us if by letting the City of C.R. use the tower it goes ahead since it is needed to justify the business case.

Another service that was planned for this tower was an Internet Access Point aimed at Open Bay. This would have involved a 5.8 GHz internet feed to the tower and a 2.4 GHz WiFi AP aimed at Open Bay and Hyacinthe Bay using very directional antennas and 0.1 Watt power. Dave agreed to drop this service since the audience was concerned about microwave radiation.

Another service that was hoped for but did not materialize was cell phone service. Telus was contacted, but only replied very recently (from Ray Lawson) that officially Telus does not have sufficient business interest to use the tower at this time. The audience was very clearly against having a cell phone facility on this tower. Dave agreed to not give a cell company access to the tower, and was willing to put that into writing. Dave will also build the tower so that it will not be suitable for supporting cell phone antennas.
Q. What if Telus changes their mind, or if Rogers or another company comes forward?
Dave as landlord has the authority to say no to any prospective tenant. Dave is willing to make a legally binding commitment to do that.
In addition, this site does not have easy access to the power that a cell phone facility would need and a fibre optic internet connection is also not available.
Q. Telus could afford to put those in or even rebuild the tower
Dave says that they would look for a cheaper site first. Other sites on Quadra would be better for them. If a telco wishes to use the tower, there request will be forwarded to Quadra. It’s too much of a hot potato for NIComm to become involved.

Q. Anything at frequencies greater than 800 MHz is a health problem. We are okay with VHF. We are not concerned with directional antennas, only omni-directional ones.
Dave: the factors affecting safety are intensity, distance, and duration
Q. The standards are too lax, the effects are harmful for much greater distances
Dave: a contentious point with conflicting studies.
Brian: The RCMP has RF meters to measure energy, used for hospitals etc. Even with the most sensitive measuring equipment, you won’t see any effect from the signals from this tower, they will be lost in the noise at even the closest residences
Dave: A concern, whether founded or unfounded, is still a concern and
needs to be addressed.
Q. Can this be measured before the project goes ahead?
Dave can put a dish on a temporary mast (not at the same height). Dave and Brian can then make measurements. Brian has modelling software which can predict propagation very well. Brian can give the close residents this information.
Dave: The signal is in a directional beam, there is little energy outside of the beam; houses will be below and behind the beam.
Q. Is there a scatter effect?
Dave: there is nothing in the beam path to scatter the signals.
Q. What about people at the viewpoint on top of the hill?
Dave: depends on how long you are there, but the viewpoint won’t be in the beam either. These antennas need to be very carefully aligned.
Q. Can there be legal text that the application is for directional equipment only (at microwave frequencies)?
Dave: yes
Dave: there is background radiation everywhere, even from space
Q. What percentile increase are we adding to the mix?
Dave: This is not an excuse too add more, just a comment that RF radiation is unavoidable.

Q. What future tenants might there be?
A. The Coast Guard already has a tower on Discovery Mountain, Sonora Island.
A. BC Ambulance Service may be a possibility.
Amateur Radio, Volunteer Search and Rescue, should be included as they are first responders and use VHF voice repeaters.

Q. Can we write into the covenant the kinds of services which are acceptable?
A. yes

Q. What about the inevitable evolution of technology?
Brian. The planned evolution of RCMP communication will reduce the power used.
Dave. A single repeater is far better than numerous ones scattered around the Island.

The site change. The exact location of the site was chosen because it
was flat, bare rock and there were few trees in the area, making construction easy.
Dave did not realize that this was a viewpoint on the Heriot Ridge trail. He thought that there was only the lower, west facing viewpoint. The Professional surveyors claim to have not discovered the the trail mapping on the Government Tantalus site. They did not notice that it was officially documented. Dave came to the site for a walkabout with a few locals and a couple people from the Ministry of Forestry. On that walkabout, an alternate location was scouted. The new location has a few more trees and the ground is rougher, but it is a suitable site from both the coverage and the construction aspects. The new site is 300 meters SE from the first site. There are no trails near this site. They are both at about the same elevation.

Q. What is the distance to the nearest house?
Norris: from the map, approximately 0.75 km The nearest house is 650 meters away from the new planned tower location.

Q. Provide a map showing the trails, roads, and sites
Norris: see above. HR1 is the original proposal, HR2 is the new suggested location.

Q. Heriot Ridge was identified years ago when it was being looked at for a woodlot. It was protected as a Sensitive Reserve to protect its scenic and recreational value. It is important to locals and to the tourist industry. We did not want a clear cut visible from Quadra or from the Cortes ferry. We do not want the tower to be very visible either.
Dave: we go to an effort to make the towers not visible. We can paint them green to blend with the trees, or the galvanized colour blends with the sky.
Brian: our experience is a tower that only sticks up 40 feet above the trees is very hard to see
Q. There are two rare plant species in the Sensitive Reserve. [no one so far knows what they are]
Dave: I will hire a local biologist to investigate this once it is clear the new tower is acceptable to Quadra residents
Q. The ambiance of a big tower is not conducive. Will there be roads and fences?
Dave: The tower will be away from the trails and viewpoints. There will be no fences. The tower will have an anti-climb guard on it. We will make a commitment to minimize impact of construction. The buildings will be painted to be in harmony with the surroundings. An arborist will only cut or trim the minimum of trees. There will be no roads. Roads are just an invitation to vandalism. Construction will be using a Bell 407 helicopter. The tower is all steel, so it will only require annual maintenance. Sealed lead-acid batteries will need to be replaced every five years, by helicopter. Construction will be between the hours of 9 and 5. The equipment will be pre-fabricated to the greatest extent and flown in as modules.

Q. Will the tower have lights?
Dave: the tower is not high enough to require lights, so there will be no lights and it does not need to be painted red and white.
Q. There is air traffic at low altitude over Heriot Ridge
Dave: the local operators contacted me and told me they do not have a problem with the proposed tower. They say they go around the ridge.

Dave power will be by solar cells and a wind generator, possibly there will also be a propane generator for when neither energy source is available.
Q. will the panels be visible from the Spit?
Dave: no, they are below the adjacent tree line.

Q. Will there be buildings on the site?
Dave: Yes, we use shipping containers for this. Usually with four legs each to a small concrete pad. In this case, the helicopter can only lift 1700 pounds, so we plan to use three 6×6 foot containers bolted together.

Q. What about if there is a big earthquake?
Dave: we drill anchors into the rock 8 feet for guy wire support.

Q. About the legal commitments. They should also be binding on any successor, a survivability clause. If there is no successor, the site (or facility?) should revert to the SRD, since it is more local than 911-corp or the RCMP.

Dave showed showed slides of NI Comm installations at Nanoose Notch, Mt. Jeffery on Hornby Island, Tahsis, Nimpkish, and Mt. Washington.

Dave: We have been very successful installing equipment with minimal impact, not disturbing moss, keeping things clean and tidy.
We have installed repeaters and towers on park land for the 911 Corporation, blended them in and no one knows they are there.
We will paint the containers forest green and do our best to blend things in.
The new location is quite removed away from the trails, on the far East edge of the Ridge.

Q. Can we put something in the gumboot and the D.I.?
Norris: I will put the detailed notes (and maps) on to the
qioutdoorclub.org site and put summaries into the gumboot and DI.

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