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Comment: Super-sized communications tower is not right for Mount Douglas

Tower proponents are lobbying for a much bigger tower and want to put it at the existing Mount Douglas parking lot.
The communications tower at the summit of PKOLS-Mount Douglas in Saanich. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

A commentary by the president of PKOLS-Mount Douglas Conservancy.

A friend told me the best way to get your partner’s approval to purchase a new Rolls-Royce. Don’t ask if we can purchase one, instead ask “What colour would you like for our new Rolls-Royce?”

This is the tactic being used for the possible new PKOLS-Mount Douglas tower.

Don’t ask if we should purchase the biggest tower in all of Saanich, instead ask “Where would you like to install it?”

More than a year ago, when it was determined the existing tower needed to be replaced because of safety regulations, commercial users of the tower, along with external engineering consultants, assembled ideas for a replacement.

Putting all these wishes together, the totality of new additions and features added up to a lot of weight and wind loading, requiring a substantially bigger tower, a true Rolls-Royce of towers.

The proposed superstructure of this proposed tower surpasses by 40 per cent the current biggest tower in Saanich, the Layritz tower.

This new tower will take on the dubious title of the biggest radio tower in Saanich.

Next were potential tower installation consultants who didn’t like the thought of having to walk up to the summit where the existing tower is located; it would be much more convenient to simply locate the tower in the parking lot next to their trucks.

And they justified this decision with unsupported claims about environmental damage and expense: that a summit location would require a temporary road to the summit and that a crane would have to be barged from the mainland.

Even though the parking lot location is lower than the existing tower summit location, they wanted antennas mounted at the tower top to be the same elevation above sea level as the existing tower.

To compensate for the 10-metre lower elevation of the parking lot, 10 metres was added to the height of the tower, changing it from a 30-metre to a 40-metre tower.

This de facto 40-metre height became the new replacement height, independent of final location. Further, adding this one bottom 10-metre section (actually 11.7 metres) increases the tower weight by 58 per cent.

Now we have a tower that is 58 per cent heavier, 33 per cent taller and 300 per cent wider with antennas. This is not a replacement, it is an entirely new concept far exceeding earlier council guidelines for this natural park setting.

So what do the proponents do? They don’t ask approval for this new concept, they simply ask council “Where would you like to locate the new tower?”

This tower serves multiple commercial cell phone companies, along with some government and emergency services. Most of the new, expanded, tower size and antennas are for the cellular services.

In the 33-year life of the existing tower, cell technology has progressed through 3G, 4G and now 5G cell service, with increasingly smaller cells served by building mounted antennas throughout the city.

Note that two-thirds of the 5G radio bands are not suitable for this mountain top location, but instead 5G requires more small, local “cells” closer to the phone user.

Does this rapidly advancing technology match the 50-year expected future life of this tower? Is anyone going to sign a 50-year cellular service contract?

The commercial users’ and external engineering consultants’ mandate focused on the tower, not the natural park, which must be given priority consideration.

It’s quite feasible to locate the 40-metre tower at the summit near the existing tower, but a 30-metre tower, being much lighter, would be easier.

The parking lot location negatives are clear in these renditions. It dominates the natural setting, changing it from park to industrial zone, destroys the iconic Churchill Drive view, limits access to the viewing deck, eliminates almost half the parking, especially the three south facing view spots. It will be a graffiti magnet.

It would be the summit focal point and dominate the landscape from surrounding neighbourhoods.

The summit location near the existing tower is hidden by trees, preserves positive attributes of the parking meeting area and viewing deck, has direct crane access without tree damage, with overall zero environmental damage.

All that is needed is a new improved safe trail to the summit.

The PKOLS-Mount Douglas Conservancy supports the summit location near the existing tower for any new tower. The conservancy strongly opposes any other location, especially the parking lot.

The PKOLS-Mount Douglas Conservancy has always supported a reasonable, necessary replacement tower; a true replacement tower, not this gratuitous super-sized tower.