Gabriolans say no to Gabriola Radio Society tower
Last monday night the Gabriola Local Trust Committee held a public meeting to hear feedback on the Gabriola Radio Society’s application to site a broadcast tower on Stoney Ridge, just off Chernoff Road on Gabriola. The intent of the Gabriola Radio Society (GRS) is to operate a community radio station broadcasting at 98.7 FM.
Almost every one of the 40 members of the public attending spoke against the tower. Several of the opponents said they were not against a community radio station altogether, just the siting of a tower for it on Gabriola Island.
Ken Zakreski, president of the Gabriola Radio Society (listed also as CEO as part of Industry Canada’s requirements for broadcast purposes), represented the society at the meeting.
David Graham, chair of the Gabriola Local Trust Committee, chaired the meeting while Gabriola Trustees Sheila Malcolmson and Gisele Rudischer also answered questions from the public.
Ken said GRS is seeking a “letter of no objection” from the Trust for the siting of the tower.
He explained GRS has two years from November 2011 (when the CRTC awarded them their call letters CKGI and approved them for broadcast on 98.7 FM) to establish their service.
To date, $20,000 has been raised from donations, which was used to secure the broadcast licence.
Funds raised have also been used to prepare the engineering report for the Stoney Ridge site. Ken said the report, which cost roughly $13,000 to prepare, cannot be used for another site.
As part of his presentation, Ken said GRS is prepared to offset any perceived decrease in property values from the tower by offering free Wi-Fi Internet service to those affected.
The tower is proposed by GRS to be a monopole and constructed to resemble a tree struck by lightning. The antenna would be omnidirectional, that is, it would receive signals from or transmit in all directions.
The proposed tower would be 40 m in height and is proposed to be located on a 100 m by 100 m right-of-way adjacent to the Chernoff Drive road right-of-way. An artists rending of the tower site submitted by Ken is included to the right.
The two acres of property, owned by David and Keni Lorette, would be leased by GRS at a cost of $30,000 per year.
Set-up cost for the tower and radio station has been put at just over $300,000 by Ken in previous articles in the Sounder.
Chloe Fox, Islands Trust Planner, explained the approval process, saying the ultimate authority on approving the tower siting lies with Industry Canada, not with the Trust. However, Industry Canada does look to the local government to see if there is local objection or approval of a site. During the public part of the meeting, Chloe was asked if there is ever a point where the Trust gets to say no to the application.
She explained if the Trust says no, then either the Trust or the Applicant (GRS) can ask Industry Canada for a mediator, but the application still moves forward to Industry Canada, it does not stop because the Trust says no.
“We’re required to work with the applicant or to a mutual decision.”
Saying ‘no’, she explained, would be equivalent to requesting Industry Canada to mediate.
Chair David Graham said, “I can speak from experience where the Local Trust Committee denied the application and Industry Canada granted the application. That is the hard facts of dealing with the federal government rather than your local government.”
Leslie Hazeldine, who lives with her partner Bob on Coats Road, said, “I feel there could be an impression that this little corner of the island is a quiet little corner where the tower won’t be noticed.
“This is a rural, pleasant, wonderful part of this island. There is nothing more horrific than a monstrosity [like the proposed tower] built here.
“We trust to the Trust stick to its goal of protecting the island we live on.”
Appearance of the tower
George Szanto, whose property adjoins the tower property, said, “When asked to talk about visual impact mitigation, the applicant has proposed putting it within an existing stand of tall trees.
“But the tower would be placed in what is now a quarry. The applicant states the tower will be built to resemble a tree struck by lightning. This is a concession that the tower is something that needs to be hidden. Steel does not blend in.”
Ken said, “We don’t concede the tower is unsightly – we cede people have concerns looking at it. Yes, the stand of trees are scraggly, but they are a stand of trees; the tower is a monopole and is set to the site so as not to be obvious.
“I live here too, I see many of you in the grocery stores. I don’t want to put something in that is unsightly – there is nothing in the application that is misleading.”
Teresa Bears, landowner on Hess Road, asked if and when lawsuits happen (for whatever reason) who will be responsible, the GRS or the landowner?
Ken said, “I’m not a lawyer and not able to answer, but if things go south radio wave wise, and a lot of pigs have died to make these calculations safe, my lay opinion is the government is telling us it is safe.”
Funding the Radio Station
Landowner Bob Hazeldine asked how GRS plans to keep the radio station going. How will it be funded and paid for?
Ken said, “We would sell advertising if we had to, if the community didn’t fund us.”
Bob asked, “Are you asking us as taxpayers to give you money?”
Ken said, “Not tonight, no. In the future, yes, the community will have to pay for the radio station.”
Bob said, “Have you thought maybe it would be better to give that money to the lunch program?
Ken said the backup plan is to be funded by donations. “Advertising is a last resort, we will if we have to.”
Howard Houle, Regional District of Nanaimo Director for Area B (Gabriola, Mudge, DeCourcy Islands), said he had a clarification to make.
“Ken has approached the board asking if the board could fund him. Under the Local Government Act we could. Do we want to is the next question.”
Howard said he had put out feelers through the local newspapers asking people ifthey wanted to fund the radio station. The cost requested of the RDN by GRS was $60,000 a year.
Howard said he had received back 24 emails and numerous people on the island have approached him and given verbal feedback.
“I got two that said we gotta have it [the radio station].
“Nobody else did. They said, ‘No, no, and if you didn’t hear me the other two times, no.’ ”
Using the tower for emergency services
One of the purposes GRS has promoted for the tower installation has been to provide a broadcast site for island emergency services.
Howard said he had spoken with RDN staff. Currently, the RDN has four fire departments broadcasting through a tower on Gabriola. There is no ambulance or RCMP presence on any tower associated with the RDN on Gabriola.
Howard said the the current tower used is on private property which is for sale.
“If it sells we have one year to move [the service] somewhere else.
“If Ken built the tower, it could be used. [But] we could use Mt. Benson and I’ve been told we’d get better [RDN] coverage there because we could get down in to the Nanaimo River.
“If Ken came to the board and made the request for funding – if it came to that – the indication to me so far is the community does not support funding for the station from taxes.”
Time frame for application
Nancy Hetherington-Peirce asked the trustees what the time frame on the application would be.
David said the next meeting that it could be on the agenda would be the Local Trust Committee meeting scheduled for July 26.
Members of the public have until July 25 to submit written feedback to the trustees on the application. All feedback will then be put in to a staff report for the trustees, which could be presented at the July 26 meeting.
Gabriola Radio Society membership
Ken was asked how many members are currently in the Gabriola Radio Society. He said 20 people have membership.
Nancy asked, “Would the society have an opportunity to change its mind on this application and withdraw the application for this site?
“Could the membership decide, based on what it is hearing in the community, to withdraw the application?”
Ken said, “All things are possible.”
Nancy asked, “What are the requirements to be a member of the society?”
Ken said the cost is $20.
Why not go digital?
Landowner Ode Howard asked for Ken to explain why the radio station can’t be digital rather than broadcast through a tower.
Ken said there are examples of online radio, but they are typically associated with a campus.
“There is no business model, there is no way to fund a[n online] community radio station. You need to get it in your truck or it’s not radio.”
On control of the tower once built
Kit Szanto, landowner adjacent to the tower site, said her concern is GRS will have no control over what other antennas could be installed on the tower in the long term.
“All of this falls to [Industry Canada] to say yes or no.”
She acknowledged GRS has committed to no additional devices for two years, “but once the tower is built, Industry Canada doesn’t give a damn if 50,000 things are put on it or none. We will have no control once the tower is built. Ken may not want two things added but since [Industry Canada] has no particular concern over how communities feel I have concerns with the tower being built at all. We can’t know what will happen in the next 10 or 20 years.”
Mike Phillips pointed out the sources of funding leave little to provide for operation of the station, which could mean renting space on the tower as the only way to get income for the Radio Society.
He pointed out sponsorship, taxes and commercial advertising were unlikely to be able to support the station.
The only option then, according to Mike, would be leasing space on the tower to commercial operators.
“This tower, I think, will be festooned with junk for no benefit at all to Gabriola. That’s a huge problem for the people in this room. $300,000 is mind boggling for 20 people to be putting us all in a fuss over. Why do we have to run the risk of doing this?
“This clause in there – that Gabriola Radio is not proposing to share tower space. I don’t know what that means, I don’t care what they propose. What they propose and what happens as they go along will be two separate things.”
Stuart Denholm asked, “Given the Trust mandate, could the Trust not write a letter to Industry Canada saying we are nervous about losing control of what may happen on this land? We don’t know what a subsequent owner might do.”
Chloe said she didn’t know of any precedent of a trust committee doing such a thing. “I’m also not sure what benefit it would have. Industry Canada doesn’t need to follow local zoning, they are not concerned with local land-use issues.”
Kit said she believes Stuart’s question has merit. “No Gabriolan has any control over the future of this. Because we have no control, it is obvious the Trust has to take that seriously. The concern of someone else developing in some way that is damaging to the island is too obvious a danger to talk about. I don’t think we need to carry this meeting farther. We all know there is no control once the tower goes up.”
Are there alternative broadcast sites?
Steve Livie asked if the landowner were to withdraw his support, would GRS look for another location?
Ken explained Mt. Benson is not a practical broadcast site as the 98.7 band approved for GRS would interfere with other stations reached from the height and openness of Mt. Benson (a station for example in the same FM range in communities on the other side of Mt. Benson would get interference from Gabriola Radio). Locating on Gabriola uses Mt. Benson to shield those stations from Gabriola Radio.
Asked if that could be solved by using a directional antenna, Ken said a directional from Benson would be impractical.
Ken was asked if building the 40 m tower meant drilling down.
He said he guessed it would mean about two weeks of construction, including drilling to a depth of 13 to 17 feet.
“It is a gravel pit – an active excavation site now. This would be two acres less of an active excavation site.”
Leslie Hazeldine said she would like to “bring to the attention of the Trust that this gentleman here and his 20 friends are suggesting ruining our neighbourhood with this monstrosity and I am asking you to think of the reason for this.
“If he fails and the radio station doesn’t get off the ground, we will be living with the tower if he fails and there is a very big chance he’s going to [fail].”
On a permanent moratorium on other tower users
Ken was asked if he would enter into a covenant that GRS would never allow other commercial users on to that tower.
Ken said, “Currently the board of directors have instituted a two-year moratorium.The spirit of putting the tower together is for the community. You have to look at who’s proposing the tower: a small radio station run by people who want to play music – there is no one [else] proposing to use this site right now.”
Sharon Shackleton said for all those very reasons that is why neighbours don’t want to see the tower. “You are a small group of people who want to play music, ruining our neighbourhood with a tower. There has got to be other ways. Do it on the Internet – everyone on the island will subscribe. You won’t make any enemies that way.”
Staffing and studio location
Explaining the staffing and operation of the station, Ken said the plan is to have 1.2 full-time positions supporting the on-air people, who will be unpaid, “who do so for the love of radio. The programming schedule includes spoken word, music and original programming not heard elsewhere.”
Ken said there were different places within the Village Core where the GRS was contemplating putting the studio.
George Szanto clarified that “there is very little chance GRS will be hosted at the Gabriola Commons.”
Would GRS stop the process if public or Trustees voted against it?
Ken was asked if there was a popularity vote and people voted against the tower and radio station, would GRS stop the process.
Ken said, “I can tell you I will abide by the decision of the people who have the authority on this.” He clarified it is the minister for Industry Canada who has that authority.
Nancy asked if the trustees have it in their authority to request some kind of island-wide referendum.
“Based on the fact that it sounds like this small group of people within a society are proposing something that has an effect in many ways, including financially, on the whole island.
“Do the trustees have the authority to hold a referendum on this application?”
Chair David Graham said if the Trust did hold a referendum, it wouldn’t be binding. Director Houle said the cost to hold a referendum is $17,000.
Ken was asked if he would want the antenna next to his house, or to live in the shadow of the tower.
Ken said it would depend on the situation.
“You have to look at both sides of the issue – what are the benefits? The detractions are change.”
He was asked by Mike Phillips, “If the Trust in its wisdom decides not to recommend this proposal, will you withdraw the application?
“Will you back off if community will is against you or will you just push ahead, fight it through the bureaucrats?”
Ken said, “The ultimate authority is the minister – and we’ll respect that, if the minister decides not to site the tower.”
Mike said, “We’re not talking about the minister – we’re talking about the local will. What happens if the Trust says no?”
Ken did not answer the question.
Trustees reminded the public that the application is for the tower itself, not the radio station and all comments sent in regarding the application should keep that in mind.
Emails and other information available at www.soundernews.com or at the Islands Trust Northern Office on North Road.
A post-meeting statement from the Gabriola Radio Society is included in the Letters section here.