No to cellular mast tower
Friday, 04 February 2011 00:00
Residents in Somerset West’s Hillcrest Road are up in arms over a proposal to put up a |25 metre high tower adjacent to a reservoir located in the Helderberg Nature Reserve. The tower, which is intended to carry cellular broadcast equipment for mobile network operator Cell C, will be located across the road from a number of homes on Hillcrest Road.
Sandy Webster, who lives 800 metres down Hillcrest Road from the proposed location, discovered a poster advertising an environmental impact assessment (EIA) public participation process (PPP) for the “Proposed Installation of a Cell-C Base Station on remainder of Erf 2597, Somerset West” attached to a gate close to the proposed site while out walking on Wednesday January 19. She immediately alerted her neighbours.
Both Mrs Webster and her husband are opposed to the erection of the mast, and will be lodging an official objection.
“My husband and I walk in the nature reserve on weekends and it’s our sanity; in fact it’s our sanctuary away from modern technology,” said Mrs Webster. “Health-wise I can’t say it will affect me here, because I’m some way down the road, but I do worry how it will affect wildlife in the area. We have black eagles and owls breeding in the area, and we have no way of knowing how it will affect them.”
Keith and Lynda Viljoen, neighbours to the Websters, are equally opposed.
“I’m appalled at the thought of having a 25m high tower inside the nature reserve – which is pristine area and which I feel should be kept that way, “ Mrs Viljoen told Bolander last week. “I’m also very concerned about the possible health risks involved, and that the presence of the tower will impact negatively on property values in the area. I will be objecting strongly against the erection of the tower. I also feel that the whole way in which this has been done reeks of deception. “
Not so, says EIA practitioner Lieuwe Boonstra of Warren Petterson Planning, who is conducting the basic assessment report BAR process as required in terms of the National Environmental Management Act, 1998 (Act No. 107 of 1998).
“The PPP was advertised in the District Mail on December 4, and I advised all interested and affected parties (I&AP) adjacent to the proposed site, by post on the same day,” said Mr Boonstra. A resident who declined to be named confirmed having received postal notification, and that they planned to object. Mr Boonstra said that he had already received a number of objections, and various other communications about the proposed mast, and that in his opinion, it “proves that the process is working.”
Richard Newton-King, owner of Kingskloof Farm at the top of Hillcrest Road, had this to say: “There is already a tower about 200 metres from the proposed location with all equipment and facilities in place. It makes more sense for Cell-C to mount its equipment on that tower rather than to erect a new one.”
Owen Wittridge, area manager, Somerset West biodiversity management branch of the City of Cape Town, agrees with Mr Newton-King. “We are opposed to the erection of the cell mast within the nature reserve and would support them piggy-backing on an existing tower in the area. We have already submitted our objection to the erection of this mast within the confines of the reserve.”
In an email response to Bolander, the City’s regional head property holding in the property management department, Kobus Coetzer, confirmed that according to clause 5.1 of the City’s cellular telecommunication infrastructure policy, “The approach should focus on … Co-location of cellular telecommunication infrastructure in order to limit proliferation, ameliorate visual impact and facilitate effective control.” The policy goes on to say “All possible location alternatives consistent with minimising proliferation of antennas should be explored early in the process in order to minimise the impact of the antenna support structure…..”
The apparent contradiction – the land is owned by the City of Cape Town, and the City’s biodiversity management department is objecting to the tower – is easily explained according to Mr Wittridge, who says that at this stage, all the City has agreed to is allowing the process of applying for environmental approval to go ahead.
This was confirmed by Mr Boonstra, who said that he had been supplied with a power of attorney by the City which places no obligation on it to agree to lease the land to the applicant, adding that even if environmental approval is granted, any appeals set aside, and land use and planning approval granted by the City to the applicant, the City is not obliged to agree to lease the land.
Retired physicist Koos Roux, who taught at the University of the Orange Free State for 27 years, lives about 200 metres from the proposed location. He too is not in favour of the mast. “I believe it’s going to devalue property in the immediate area, and I wouldn’t like to see it in the nature reserve,” he said. “As far as I know, there is no conclusive evidence to indicate that it is harmful to human health, but I will be doing some research.” He went on to say that if living in proximity to a cellular mast does prove harmful at some point in the future it will be too late by then. “Why can’t they locate it further up the mountain where it is less visible?” he asked.
Mr Boonstra told Bolander that the applicant had considered a number of alternative locations, which had proved unsuitable for technical reasons, details of which would be include in his basic assessment report. He went on to say, that if the community did not want it located at the proposed they site, they should suggest further alternatives. “The Cell C towers need to be within line of site of each other, so that they can communicate via microwave,” he explained. “This is the reason why the location was selected.” He went on to say that if there is another location which is less visible and further from residences and it proves to be viable, even if the tower has to be higher, up to 35 metres, then the applicant would be obliged to consider it.
In response to a question from Bolander, Mr Boonstra pointed out that objections to the erection of the tower on health grounds, would be recorded but not considered by the provincial department of environmental affairs and development planning (DEADP) in arriving at a record of decision. “This process is about erecting a tower, not the equipment that will be mounted on it. As long as it meets the guidelines laid down by ICNIRP (International Commission for non-Ionising Radiation Protection), which the Cell-C equipment does, then there is no danger. Besides, health related issues are the preserve of the health department, not the environmental authorities.” This was previously confirmed by Bolander in a telephonic conversation with Zaahir Toefy, deputy director integrated environmental management at DEADP, in respect of an earlier cell mast application.
The date for comment, objection and for registering as an interested and affected party expires on Monday February 14. Mr Boonstra urged all residents in the area to register if they wish to be kept informed of progress of the application. This is important, because application has been made to DEADP for exemption from the regulation which obliges the applicant to advertise DEADP’s decision in the local newspaper.
“The process is designed to give people every chance to comment. The process is independent, and nothing allows the (EIA) practitioner to be biased,” said Mr Boonstra. “Whatever the outcome might be somebody is going to be unhappy.”
Mr Boonstra was unavailable for comment at the time of going to print, about the late-breaking news that an existing mast is located in close proximity to the proposed site of the new mast.
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