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Nanaimo council votes against cell tower proposal

It’s not just residents who have trouble getting cell service on their phones along Hammond Bay Road – emergency services do not have the ability to communicate in the area.

Nanaimo Fire Rescue chief Craig Richardson said better cellphone reception along Hammond Bay Road would be beneficial as cellular data issued is used for mobile computers on fire trucks.

“We do lose connectivity for those in certain areas down there as well,” he said. “There are times when we don’t have that capacity to transmit data to the computers in the fire trucks, however between cellular phone and radio, we’ve been managing our communications, although it has been problematic for us.”

He said emergency services use a communications infrastructure on Cottle Hill, adding that he hasn’t heard any reports of delays. While communication in the area used to be an issue for emergency response too, radio upgrades have made things easier.

“In terms of being able to communicate with emergency responders, we’ve done some improvements in there in the last year,” Richardson said. “We have a radio repeater (amplifies low-level signals) in the area that backfills some of the coverage on radio.”

Nanaimo city council voted 8-1 against supporting a Telus cellphone tower proposal for the parking lot at Piper’s Pub last week, which would have remedied the gap in cellular phone coverage. The decision came much to the disappointment of Coun. Bill McKay, the lone councillor who was in favour.

He said he wished more consideration had been given to people who get into trouble along the Hammond Bay route.

“I was really disappointed that wasn’t taken into consideration,” McKay said. “I’d sure hate for anybody to be driving down the road in the middle of the night and go off the road because they’ll never be able to reach anybody for help.”

Mayor John Ruttan is also aware of the reception troubles and the potential safety concerns that come with it and said voting against the tower was a difficult decision. He said a tower is needed in the area but his primary concern was the proximity to a number of schools.

“I can’t help but feel there are locations that are not near built-up areas, not near primary and daycare schools that will be desirable from a telecommunications standpoint and that can be built,” Ruttan said.

Telus spokeswoman Liz Sauve said the company was disappointed with the decision but is still interested in working with the city in the future to improve wireless service in the area.

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