Puslinch council discusses organization’s handling of Shared Tower application

ABERFOYLE – Construction of the pad for a telecommunications tower began here late last year, seemingly without prior consultation with the public or  the Township of Puslinch. 

Shared Tower, the company behind the project, says the blame lies with the Canadian Radiocommunications Information and Notification Service (CRINS).

“We really want to correct the impression the residents have that we attempted to do something without consultation,” said Shared Tower president Daniel Gibbons in an interview with the Advertiser.

“We consulted in good faith with CRINS – as far as we were concerned that consultation was completed.” 

According to a township report prepared by clerk and interim CEO Courtenay Hoytfox, “it appears that the township and the proponent agree that consultation was not completed in accordance to applicable protocols.”  

CRINS processes and evaluates proposals for telecommunications facilities on behalf of land use authorities such as municipalities. According to its website it is “a not-for-profit corporation owned and operated on behalf of member land use authorities.”

As an agent for the township, CRINS was responsible for conducting all consultation for telecommunications towers in Puslinch.

Public consultation must include a newspaper notice and delivering notices to property owners near the tower. 

Telecommunications towers fall under federal jurisdiction, but the township, as the land use authority, must confirm consultation is concurrent with federal requirements. 

Gibbons delegated to council on Sept. 27, outlining several issues with CRINS. He noted he takes “obligations to consult with government seriously.” 

In early 2021, Shared Tower “commenced an extensive search for a suitable real estate candidate for a new tower,” near the intersection of Brock Road (Wellington Road 46) and Wellington Road 34, states a report submitted with Gibbons’ delegation.

Gibbons said the tower is necessary “to address network issues.” 

 Initially Shared Tower entered negotiations with Ren’s Pets Depot, but the landowners chose not to have the tower on their property. 

Shared Tower then entered into a lease with the owner of 7424 Wellington Road 34. 

Shared Tower’s report states that in December 2021, it submitted an application through the CRINS online portal. According to the CRINS website, a five step process is followed after an application is submitted: 

– pre-consultation with land use authority; 

– notify local residents; 

– evaluation by land use authority; 

– solicitation of public input; and 

– submission and publication of the final report. 

In March 2021, Shared Tower “received confirmation via the CRINS portal that a ‘draft report’ on the tower was available, but despite repeated requests, we were not able to retain a copy of this report,” Shared Tower states.

Two months later, Shared Tower received a notice of completion from CRINS, “stating a public consultation was completed and … the township had reviewed the proposed site,” the report states.   

Shared Tower say CRINS attested consultation was conducted and there were no public or municipal concerns, so Shared Tower commenced construction in November 2022. 

But Hoytfox’s report states the “township had no knowledge of the proponent’s tower development application until construction of the pad began … and the township began receiving questions and concerns from neighbouring property owners.”

“We do not have any evidence of public consultation or notice in a newspaper,” Hoytfox said.

Councillor John Sepulis said “CRINS obviously didn’t do its work properly,” and asked if the township would be severing ties with CRINS. 

“That will likely be staff’s recommendation,” Hoytfox said. 

Sepulis said the relationship should be terminated, and the township should process future telecommunications applications internally. 

Mayor James Seeley suggested the township inform the federal department responsible for regulating telecommunications – Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) – of the issues.

Hoytfox said she would ask the township’s legal team what could be shared.

Seeley said the issues surprised him, noting “CRINS has been used by a lot of municipalities, including Guelph/Eramosa and Guelph.” 

Guelph/Eramosa has since terminated its relationship with CRINS due to unresponsiveness. 

Councillor Russel Hurst said “Shared Tower has done everything properly,” but Seeley quickly noted that was just Hurst’s personal opinion, “not the opinion of the corporation.”

Shared Tower’s report states that on Dec. 5 “CRINS delivered a vague email … asking us to pause construction because there may be issues with the location of the tower. 

“This was the first time since its application had been submitted one full year earlier that Shared Tower was made aware of any concerns whatsoever.” 

Shared Tower states “despite repeated efforts, CRINS, and in particular  [executive director] Todd White, was entirely unresponsive until February (2023).”  

Then, White “assured us that the concerns with the tower were not material,” the report states.

“His precise words were ‘your tower is fine.’ Later that day, Mr. White finally shared the Land Use Authority [LUA] Recommendation Report, dated Feb. 9, 2022.” 

Hoytfox’s report states, “The township never saw the letter, notice of completion, or the LUA report prior to it being provided to the proponent by CRINS. The township first saw the draft LUA report in February, 2023.”

The township asked CRINS to send copies of the public information notice and feedback several times, but has not received either. 

The original LUA report did not contain any significant objections.

On Feb. 24, “Shared Tower received a concerning email from Mr. White, which referred to an unknown number of public concerns regarding garage overhang and ice risk and requested information regarding steps that were taken to review additional tower sites,” states  Shared Tower’s report. 

“Throughout this time and in the ensuing weeks, Shared Tower made a number of attempts to schedule meetings or discussions with township staff, but in almost all cases, our communications were ignored.”

In April, Shared Tower said White sent CRINS’ transcripts “of four public concerns  … primarily regarding property value and of a visual amenity nature,” its report states.

“No supporting documentation to indicate when, how, or by whom they were submitted” was included.  

In May, Shared Tower submitted a Freedom of Information (FOI) request for full records of communications between CRINS, the township and the public regarding the proposed tower, “a request with which the (township) initially refused to comply,” Shared Tower’s report states. 

The FOI request yielded “an alternative LUA recommendation report, that was prepared without [Shared Tower’s] knowledge or input.” 

According to Shared Tower the alternative report, dated June 6, 2023, “contains information that is inaccurate about the land and the tower.” 

The company says:

– the suggestion that a portion of the tower would overhang neighbouring property is “plainly false;” and

– the recommendation that the site be moved to Ren’s Pet Depot is impossible as the land owner is not interested in leasing the property. 

Shared Tower has now circulated materials about the tower proposal to all property owners within 105 metres of the proposed site, and posted a notice in the Advertiser.  

“As a company we really believe in more consultation rather than less,” Gibbons said in an interview with the Advertiser. 

The company has received two comments from the public so far, regarding the visibility of the tower and the potential impact on property value. 

Gibbons said he understands “in an ideal world nobody would have to look at a tower” and he accepts people’s comments in good faith. 

The proposed tower is 35 meters high, while most rural towers are between 45 and 50 metres. 

He also said ISED research shows telecommunications towers do not have a significant impact on property values. 

Gibbons noted the site “landlord has been very patient and accommodating” throughout the delays. 

Gibbons said this experience with CRINS is “quite consistent” with other recent experiences Shared Tower had with CRINS, and he hears similar concerns from industry peers.  

He’s behind the idea of CRINS supporting municipalities with telecommunications applications, especially smaller townships with limited resources, but “in recent years CRINS has just become less and less reliable and responsive, making it difficult for the proponent to event get the process started.” 

CRINS did not respond to Advertiser requests for comment.