Barring the unexpected, it appears Bell will be able to erect a new communications tower in the Village of Sundridge to improve cell phone service after being met with stiff opposition from residents and the previous council two years ago.
The difference this time is the 35 metre tower, which converts to almost 115 feet, is much further away from the built up part of the community. Bell’s first proposal in late 2020 suggested the tower be built on John Street near the local Foodland which is in a commercial part of the community and very close to homes.
Former town councillor Steven Hicks was very vocal about the location in 2020 saying people object to suggestions to put up three storey buildings and Bell wanted to exceed that height by sticking up a 10-storey tower. Faced with so much opposition Bell withdrew the proposal saying it would look for another site.
This past March, council got a report where Bell proposed an alternative site on private land at 10492 Highway 124 next to the fire station on the edge of the Village.
Deputy Mayor Shawn Jackson was the only returning member from the previous council. Jackson said he liked the new location unlike in 2020, when like Hicks and other previous councillors, he had concerns about a Bell Mobility tower so close to homes and businesses.
“It’s far enough away from the Village,” Jackson said.
Jackson and his colleagues voted in favour of moving the project to its next stage where Bell will have a public consultation.
During the April 12th council meeting to resurrect the telecommunications tower project, Deborah Williamson, a consultant acting on behalf of Bell, said Sundridge needs the tower because so many more people in the Village have cell phones that the existing two towers, which are located well away from the built up part of town, can no longer provide reliable service.
“In Sundridge the coverage is pretty poor in the open areas, especially inside buildings,” Williamson said.
Williamson said people were experiencing dropped calls and slow uploads and downloads with their cell phones and this deterioration in service would only increase as more people switch to cell phones unless more capacity, like the proposed 35 metre tower, was added.
Williamson said the new tower was “an investment for the community”.
“If the wireless network is not improved in Sundridge, the performance of the network will continue to erode which will impact the quality of life for the residents and challenge businesses to stay connected,” Williamson said.
Williamson said the service worsens during spring, summer and fall when more people visit the area and they tap into the existing telecommunications towers.
Williamson said the new tower will cover the entire Village and a little beyond and she asked council to green light the proposal so Bell can start the public consultation phase.
In addition to the Deputy Mayor being on board, councillors Jim MacLachlan and Sharon Smith supported the project with MacLachlan saying cell phones have become an essential service and Smith saying if the tower doesn’t go up, the Village will have more cell phone-related problems.
Councillor Fraser Williamson, who joined the previous council after Bell made its first presentation in 2020, also supported the revised proposal.
Williamson said there may still be people opposed to the 35 metre tower and they will make their position known at the public consultation stage.
“There are going to be loud voices,” he said. “I believe they will be fewer in number, but they just get heard more”.
Mayor Justine Leveque also agreed with moving the project forward and added the public consultation phase would be the place where any community member could raise their concerns.
Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.