Tilting with Cell Towers: Quixotic Fight Goes On

By Richard Bell 

Pushing back against the tsunami of cell towers sweeping across the Eastern Shore is often a futile business, as opponents of several cell tower proposals in the Lawrencetown/Three Fathom Harbour area have discovered over the last seven years.

In the latest round of this struggle, Robert Doyle Safire is suing HRM, alleging that a Bell Atlantic tower in Three Fathom Harbour should be removed because the city improperly handled its role in the bureaucratic process leading to HRM’s approval of the tower. Judge Robert Wright is scheduled to hear Doyle’s suit in November.  
Doyle admits that the chances of forcing the removal of the tower may be small.  But he says that opponents of the tower will be happy “by bringing to light the flawed process that occurred, and the errors that HRM made.”  

Citizens have never had much power in the cellphone tower approval process because the federal government’s Industry Canada - Spectrum Management & Telecommunications has complete control over the licensing and location of cell phone towers.  

But Industry Canada does provide a small opening for democratic participation by allowing municipalities to conduct a public review process of proposed cell towers. If the public review should reject a proposed tower location, Industry Canada will conduct an “impasse process” in which the phone company and its opponents are asked to look for other more acceptable locations, providing for least a little democratic participation.   

Eastlink started the ball rolling back in 2010 with an application for a tower on Leslie Road near one of the crown jewels of Eastern Shore tourism, Lawrencetown Beach. There was spirited opposition to this proposal, including the creation of a Facebook page, “Stop Tower Scapes.”   

HRM staff found that “the tower is not compatible with the community character, that the scenic views are materially adversely affected and that the landscape aesthetics are diminished by a visual incursion in the unobstructed scenic view.”  

The Community Council then voted to send a negative recommendation to Industry Canada, triggering the “impasse process.” Eastlink then came up with a second location that also provoked strong opposition.  

In the meantime, Bell Atlantic put forward a proposal in 2014 to build a tower in Three Fathom Harbour, and offered space on its tower to Eastlink. Once again, the community mobilized; there was a community consultation where people again expressed strong opposition, and the HRM staff review began.  

But before this staff recommendation could reach Community Council, Bell Atlantic’s supporters on Regional Council came up with a subtle maneuver on March 22, 2016 to cut the public out of the process entirely by eliminating the role of the Community Council and turning the final decision over to a single unelected city bureaucrat, in this case, the recently departed Chief Planner, Bob Bjerke. The debate in Regional Council was shallow and ill informed, and Administrative Order 2015-005-GOV passed on a vote of 15-2, with only Councillors Hendsbee and Dalrymple voting against.  

Tower opponents were even further outraged when the city applied the new rule retroactively to Bell Atlantic’s 2014 application, sending an approval along to Industry Canada.  

Doyle went to court in February 2017, and his suit was pending when Bell Atlantic went ahead and built the tower. “We asked Industry Canada to be part of the judicial review,” Doyle said, “but they declined. They did say they would respect the ruling of the court. Bell Atlantic’s decision to go ahead and build the tower despite our pending suit shows how arrogant the company is. And what if the court rules in our favour? We’ll be in uncharted judicial and regulatory waters then.”  

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