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Riondel residents take protest of new Cell Tower location to the streets

This person at last Friday's TELUS Cell Tower protest in Riondel pleads with the telecommunications company to reconsider the location of the proposed tower. — Submitted photo

Following social distancing practices and allowing a crowd size of no more than 50 people as ordered by provincial public health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, Riondel citizens flocked to downtown core last Friday to protest the site of a proposed cell tower by TELUS.

“When you have a town of 250 people that can get 50 people out to a protest, there certainly is a problem with the process,” said Ben Johnson of the Riondel Cell Tower Urgent Relocation Group.

“Those 50 people are very clear that they don’t want the tower to be in our town,” Johnson added.

The peaceful protest was held next door to Bob’s Bar and Grill, which is near TELUS property in Riondel and location of the proposed new cell tower by the telecommunication company.

Protestors carried signs saying, “Tower: Yes, Location: Wrong”;“Relocate TELUS Tower Now”; “No Cell Tower In Town”; and “Get The Cell Out.”

Johnson said, despite staging a protest that has garnered provincial media coverage as well as submitting a petition with more than 400 signatures, the Riondel Cell Tower Urgent Relocation Group has yet to have any direct responses from TELUS.

“As far as I can tell, TELUS has ignored (petition) completely,” Johnson explained. “In fact (TELUS) seems to have ignored all the letters we have written to them.”

In an emailed statement prior to the protest, TELUS said for several years the company has received requests from the public, regional elected officials and the local MP to expand wireless services in the Kootenay region.

“By leveraging and enhancing existing infrastructure at TELUS’ Central Office in Riondel, our team was able to engineer a solution that will bring greater connectivity to the residents of the community,” the TELUS email said.

Johnson said many in the community, but not everyone, supports the upgrade in cell coverage on the East Shore of Kootenay Lake.

However, it’s the location that has become the sticking point.

“We certainly don’t want a tower located in the middle of our town among residences,” Johnson said.

As part of this process, TELUS said the company notified 48 residents in the direct vicinity of the tower, ran an advertisement in the local paper, and hosted an open house meeting in the town to communicate directly with residents, receive feedback, and answer questions.

TELUS completed the consultation and obtained all approvals from the relevant authorities to proceed with the wireless installation on Sept 19, 2019.

Johnson said he attended that open house which approximately 12 people attended in June of 2019, raising concerns over the site location of the cell tower.

“I raised concerns about location, and suggested an alternate location, and I didn’t get anything back,” Johnson said.

Johnson said the Riondel group has received a response from the Regional District of Central Kootenay Area A Rep as well as Industry Canada (ISED).

Johnson said the next step for the Riondel group is to follow up with the RDCK and Industry Canada in attempt to have the site location moved.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Riondel group may have gained some time as TELUS said the company has paused construction of the tower to focus our resources on supporting healthcare facilities throughout the province.

Riondel, with a population of approximately 250 citizens, is located on the eastern shore of Kootenay Lake, 10 kilometers north of Kootenay Bay terminal for the Kootenay Lake Ferry. Riondel is a one-hour drive on Highway 3A from Creston and 90 minutes from Nelson, with travelers using the scenic Kootenay Lake Ferry to access.

The peaceful protest was held next door to Bob’s Bar and Grill, which is near TELUS property in Riondel, has proposed as the location of the new cell tower by the telecommunication company. — Submitted photo

The protest attracted participants of all ages from Riondel.