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Opponents blast PoCo tower plan

If a cell tower is built at Greenmount Park in Port Coquitlam, it would ruin the view and jeopardize the health and safety of nearby residents.

If a cell tower is built at Greenmount Park in Port Coquitlam, it would ruin the view and jeopardize the health and safety of nearby residents.

That was the message PoCo council heard Monday night during a public input opportunity that saw people from across the Lower Mainland pack council chambers to speak out against a proposal from Rogers Communications. The company said the tower, which would stand 120 m from Coquitlam River elementary school, is necessary to improve cellular service in the area.

David Werthman, an opponent of the project, said council should oppose the initiative because there is not enough information on the long-term health impacts of cellphone towers.

"If that tower goes up... most of the people are going to remember who put it there," Werthman told council. "It wasn't Rogers - it was you."

According to Rogers, the cell tower would comply with all Industry Canada and Health Canada regulations, limiting electromagnetic energy in the frequency range from 3 kHz to 300 gHz. Exposure to these levels, the agencies said, is considered safe for the public.

But Peter Endisch, a Tri-City resident, said federal regulators have been wrong about things such as asbestos and garden chemicals in the past. He said Health Canada's record is "abysmal" and that council should not base its decision on the organization's research.

He added: "Technology is great but at what cost?"

But not everyone who spoke at Monday night's meeting opposed the tower. Of the 28 people who spoke during the two-hour hearing, 22 were against the tower and six supported it.

Ed Fontana, manager of network implementation with Rogers Communications and a Coquitlam resident, said the company strives to meet or exceed the standards set out by the federal government. He said demand for service has greatly increased in the community and that without a tower, residents in certain parts of Port Coquitlam will be without a strong cellular network.

"Safety is always a main concern," he told council. "We try to balance everybody's needs."

Last June, School District 43 voted unanimously in favour of a resolution to oppose any cell tower within a 305 m radius of a school. The decision was made after Rogers proposed building a facility on a vacant patch of land in PoCo's cemetery on Oxford Street. When residents complained that placing the 62 m antenna in a graveyard was disrespectful, the proposed tower was moved to Greenmount Park, closer to Coquitlam River elementary.

If the cell tower is built there, PoCo would earn $25,000 per year and $3,000 for each additional sublease, money that would be used for improving the nearby cemetery and other parks.

Some of those who spoke against the tower asked Coun. Michael Wright to recuse himself from the meeting because of what they called a perceived conflict of interest. Because Wright is a retired BC Tel employee and owns stock in Telus, opponents of the tower said there is a perception the veteran councillor could benefit from the implementation of the project.

But in a statement given before the public input session, Wright said Telus had no influence over his decisions on council and he would no recuse himself from the debate.

"Any pecuniary interest I may have is so insignificant it can't reasonably be regarded as likely to influence me," Wright said. "I do not perceive me to be in a conflict and will not recuse myself from this matter."

City staff is expected to have a report on the cell tower proposal by the end of the month.