Preceded by a little row of bubbles, two turtles swam to the surface of Art Pond, off Westlake Road in West Kelowna, right on cue as neighbour Wade Neukomm was showing his four-year-old the wonders of nature.
Ringed by bulrushes and swamp grasses, the pond is a haven for ducks and geese, turtles and other aquatic creatures, despite the fact that it is almost completely surrounded by industrial activity.
A number of neighbours are concerned about a proposal by Telus to construct a 65-metre-high self-supported telecommunications tower structure at 2378 Westlake Rd., in the southeast corner of the Barski Industries property, between Art Pond and an unnamed pond.
And Neukomm, who grew up in the neighbourhood around the two ponds along Westlake Road, is concerned about “the impact more development will have in this little ecosystem.
“It’s just not appropriate,” he feels.
He and his wife moved back to the neighbourhood to raise their family because they felt it was such a terrific place to grow up, and they wanted their children to be able to enjoy natural areas such as these ponds and Rose Valley Pond while they grow up.
“It’s just another dollop of industrial encroachment on them instead of alleviating the pressure on these ponds,” he commented.
He questions why this location was chosen, and notes that, although it is at the entrance of a large residential area, few people actually live within the distance required by Industry Canada for notification to be sent out of such projects, so few people realize it’s been proposed.
“We are all stewards of the remaining natural spaces in our community, spaces which have supported an abundant diversity of wildlife despite expanding development and increased recreational pressure,” he wrote in his letter objecting to the proposed structure.
He noted that migratory birds nest around the ponds, and both are inhabited by a population of native painted turtles, which are listed as endangered.
Newkomm is also annoyed by the short time frame between a little-publicized public meeting regarding the proposal Sept. 24 and the Oct. 5 deadline for submissions from the public.
Nicole Waidman and some of her neighbours are also concerned about the proposal so they went door-to-door to let people know about it the day before that deadline, armed with copies of the comment sheet provided by Telus for people to fill out and submit.
It asked if residents are happy with the quality of their wireless service; if they’d like to see an improvement; and if they feel this is an appropriate location for a tower.
Waidman said she feels such a tall industrial tower at the entrance to the residential areas of Rose Valley and West Kelowna Estates is inappropriate.
She is also concerned about RF radio waves from the tower so close to elementary schools, daycares and other community facilities.
“When we moved here from Vancouver we decided against buying in certain areas because of such high energy towers,” she said, finding it frustrating now to see one being proposed in her new chosen neighbourhood.
Telus spokesman Shawn Hall says they are confident the tower can be installed at the site with no environment impact, while providing improved cellular services that are being demanded by West Kelowna customers.
“The demands for wireless services are continuing to explode, and the only way to meet those demands is by expanding our area of coverage with antenna support structures like the tower being proposed,” Hall said.
He said Telus carried out an extensive search for a tower site, a $500,000 investment, and found the Westlake Road location the most suitable.
He said it requires no additional service roadway, is located next to an industrial site and the landlord is willing to lease them the land required.
“We are aware of the pond issue but we don’t feel this tower is going to have an impact,” Hall said.
“We do our best to make these structures fit in aesthetically, and in this case because of available access,we don’t have to disturb the ground beyond the space for the tower…it’s going to have a small footprint on the property. ”
Hall said Telus has received about 100 responses to the proposal, with the breakdown being about a 50/50 split of being for and against the project.
“That’s more I think than we might typically get for this kind of application,” Hall said.
“Some people have registered concerns and others have simply told us to get on with it. We want to be good neighbours and we will respond to every response that we have received as our part of participating in this process. ”
Beyond improving cellular service in current wireless service “dark areas” of the Westside, Hall said there is also a safety factor to consider, as about 60 per cent of 911 calls today come from cell phones, which he says becomes an issue for those living in areas without wireless service.
“The only way we are going to meet that demand of improving wireless services is with additional service towers like we are proposing,” Hall said.
The proposal will go to West Kelowna council for its comments, along with submissions from the public consultation.
Council’s comments are to be forwarded to Industry Canada, which has final approval over placement of new wireless radio-communications facilities.
The expectation is that decision will be made sometime within the next year.
Waidman said she intends to let council know she hopes it will not give its approval.
She has also contacted her MP Dan Albas with her concerns about the process and the proposal.
—with files from Barry Gerding.