Residents oppose cell tower
Puslinch Lake seaplane pilot says proposed location will create a hazard
PUSLINCH LAKE — Ron Harper often steps off the dock at his lakeside home to fly away in his seaplane.
He argues his safety will be at risk if Rogers Communications is allowed to erect a 40-metre-tall cell tower 400 metres from Puslinch Lake.
“The location of this tower is so close to the edge of that lake that most certainly, planes are going to have a conflict with it. They’re going to be flying over it or worse, into it,” Harper said.
Seaplanes use the lake to “stop for a rest. They stop for fuel. They stop for assistance,” he said.
“This thing is a hazard. Why would you want to put a tower there?”
Rogers, the telecommunications firm, proposes to install the tower near 2315 Townline Rd., close to the northwest shoreline of Puslinch Lake on conservation land just east of Cambridge.
The tower is meant to improve cell reception.
“We will continue to work with local officials in order to accommodate community concerns, while providing much-needed wireless services to area residents,” a Rogers spokesperson said.
Transport Canada says the tower can go up with warning lights, pointing out the lake is not a certified airport for seaplanes and is unprotected by airport zoning.
“It is the pilot’s responsibility to be aware of obstacles and ensure they are able to take off and land safely,” the agency said in a statement.
Harper’s seaplane safety concern has caught the attention of Puslinch Township council and a national association of private pilots and airplane owners.
“Common sense dictates that you’re not going to put a cell tower right there at the end of the takeoff run,” said Bernard Gervais, president of the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association.
Gervais points to a Transport Canada guideline on land use. It says obstacles such as cell towers should be kept at least four kilometres from seaplane bases even where airport zoning does not apply.
“It’s not a regulation. It’s a guideline for common sense,” Gervais said, urging negotiation to relocate or refine the tower proposal. Seaplanes land and take off from Puslinch Lake in all directions, always into the wind. Some tie up at a seaplane base that Harper operates from his dock.
An inexperienced pilot was killed at Puslinch Lake in 2013 after taking off too low and crashing into the hilly shoreline, on the opposite side of the lake from the proposed tower.
Rogers planned the tower at 50 metres, but trimmed it by 10 metres after public complaints.
The company has told Puslinch council it investigated 13 other possible locations and ruled them all out.
Rogers is installing another new cell tower farther north on Townline Road.
Puslinch council has endorsed it but stalled endorsement of the lakeside tower in November. Council plans to reconsider it in January.
“The pilot of the plane suggested it might be a hazard to him and he’s the expert,” Coun. Matthew Bulmer said.
“We’re listening to our residents.”
Council approval is ultimately not required. The federal government regulates telecommunication towers, which fall outside local regulations.
“In the end local municipalities have very little impact on whether a tower will go in a location or not,” Mayor Dennis Lever said.
The Grand River Conservation Authority is leasing the tower site to Rogers for $19,500 a year.
It will go where the agency demolished a house in 2014.
“Their mandate is to look after the lake and the wildlife around there and they’re just doing the complete opposite,” Puslinch Lake resident Liam Nother said.
Nother went before Puslinch council to oppose the tower, representing up to 20 neighbours.
He denies that opposition is a not-in-my-backyard complaint by people who use cellphones but find the tower spoils their view.
“This is the health and safety of our lake,” he said, arguing that cell towers confuse birds, drive animals away and threaten people.
“I’ve done some research on the internet,” he said. “The radio waves, it’s not healthy for us.”
Transport Canada says there’s “no scientific or medical evidence that a person will experience adverse health effects from exposure to radio frequency fields” that are within Canadian standards.
A disagreement between Puslinch council and Rogers could trigger a resolution process in which the federal government would decide on the tower.
Seaplane pilot Ron Harper stands on his dock at Puslinch Lake where he tethers his aircraft.