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Saanich encounters staunch opposition at open house on PKOLS cell tower

Many attendees criticized proposed tower location and said process lacked proper consultation
Greg Glover gives his view on the Saanich district staff’s preferred location for the replacement PKOLS communications tower. (Mark Page/News Staff)

An open house held by the District of Saanich to explain the ins and outs of the communications tower replacement on top of PKOLS has left many attendees perplexed and perturbed by the district’s engagement efforts.

“It sounds to me like it’s a done deal, and that there has been no public consultation,” said Greg Glover, who identified as a daily park user. “This is a presentation not of which one would you prefer, it’s more like ‘Here’s what we considered, and here’s what we’re going to do.’”

The tower is to sit atop the Saanich mountan, either next to the old tower, which is the preference of local conservationists, or somewhere in the current parking area, which is the direction district staff want to go.

“We spent the last year determining seven locations, possible locations, where this new tower is going to go,” said Janet Racz, the district’s land agent. “So, we’ve invited the public to take a look at all the information factors, environmental costs, safety.”

The district unveiled the different options for 35 or so attendees at the Gordon Head Lawn Bowling Club on Thursday (April 4). Only one option was outside the parking area.

“All of these options, these are all in the parking lot — except the one which they claim won’t work,” said Darrell Wick of the PKOLS-Mount Douglas Conservancy.

Racz said district staff will be recommending an option in the centre of the parking area, and that this will have to go to the Saanich council for a final decision.

This is the very spot many of the meeting attendees – including Wick and Glover – said will have the most detrimental aesthetic impact on the site.

According to information boards at the open house, the tower needs to be replaced to meet new regulatory standards, and because it will need to be larger and heavier than the previous model, replacing it in the current location would cost almost double of some other options and necessitate a long park closure.

Racz said this would also require an access road to be built and a crane to be shipped over from the mainland, upping both the expense and environmental impact. She said many of the options would also require the removal of Garry oak trees, except for the middle parking lot option.

But Wick retorted that if the original crane could be built without this effort in the 1990s, then surely the district could figure out how to put a bit bigger of a tower there in 2024 without too much disruption. He suggested perhaps using a heavy duty helicopter to put it in place.

Darrell Wick of the PKOLS-Mount Douglas Conservancy has been vocal on his opposition to plans to put the replacement communications tower in the summit parking lot area. (Mark Page/News Staff)

“I don’t agree with what they say they have to do to do it,” Wick said. “They’ve thought of everything that could go wrong.”

Either way, many attendees were dissatisfied with how the information was being presented. The open house was set up with explanatory boards for each site option, but did not include a presentation from district staff or an organized way for people ask questions and provide feedback.

“It’s supposed to be an information session, and one would expect that they would want feedback on the alternatives that are all presented,” Murray Richmond said. “And yet, there’s no one here to accept any kind of feedback or to make a presentation. So what’s the point?”

Staff were on site to answer questions and engage individually, but did not have a formal method for taking feedback.

Many people in the room said it seemed that district staff had actually made up their minds about where the tower was to be located and were presenting the other options simply to show the justification for the decision.

“I’m concerned that the decision for the location of the tower was made — and then we were asked for input,” said Saanich resident Graham Bennett.

Racz said she expects to bring a report to council on this in the next six to eight weeks, and if her recommendation is accepted, she said the project would take about three months to complete.

Glover and the others committed to going to the council meeting to voice their opposition to a tower location choice many felt would do irreparable damage to their park experience.

“That’s going to put the antenna plunk in the middle of your field of view as if it’s a giant 60-foot-tall middle finger to the community saying, ‘Here’s our communication tower,’” Glover said.

READ MORE: Exploratory work begins for tower replacement on Saanich mountaintop

About the Author: Mark Page

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