Janine Brooker sits with her son Nick Schuchard on her property where a Telus cell phone tower is proposed.

— Image Credit: Colleen Flanagan/The News

The property owner who lives where Alcatel-Lucent Canada wants to put a 60-metre tower on 110th Avenue in east Maple Ridge understands that her neighbours are worried.

“I don’t blame them for having concern,” says Janine Brooker.

But base your concern on the facts, she adds.

The Lower Mainland is covered with cellphone towers, including residential areas.

“If you’re really concerned about your safety, throw away your computer, your cellphone, your microwave,” she said.

“If you don’t want to be near a cellphone tower, don’t go into Maple Ridge. I would strongly suggest that you move away if you’re that concerned.”

Nearby residents in the Whonnock Against Cellphone Tower group, based in the 276th Street area ,are worried about dropping real estate values near cell towers, health risks and possible environmental damage from a tower built next to a stream.

They’ve circulated a petition, collecting 100 names opposing the project, and spoke to Maple Ridge council on Monday.

Brooker, though, counters by noting that her realtor says there’s a minimal effect on home prices, while good cellphone reception could be an asset, and if you’re lucky enough to own the land on which a cell tower is created, your property could be particularly prized.

Brooker, a business agent with the Hospital Employees Union, said she wasn’t interested when Telus first approached and asked to lease a piece of her land for the tower.

“I walked away from them many times because I wasn’t satisfied with what they were offering. I told them many times to go away, but they kept coming after me.”

Alcatel-Lucent is constructing the tower for Telus.

She then hired a consultant, Antenna Management Corp., to help her with the negotiations.

Eventually she hammered out an agreement that offers better money, more information and a safety inspection after the first month of operation to ensure the tower is meeting Industry Canada safety standards.

It’s part of her retirement plan, she adds, noting she has two children living on the property, while grand kids also visit.

Brooker added that her consultant will get information on cell towers, which will be passed on to concerned residents, though she doesn’t want to attend the meetings.

Antenna Management Corp. president Roy Bennett said, generally, communications companies present homeowners with a template agreement, on which he tries to improve to the benefit of the homeowner.

The average annual lease for cell towers ranges between $1,000 and $3,000 a year for each antenna that’s attached to the tower. Ideally, the homeowner will be able to have control of any future antennas that go on to the tower and, thus, get the lease money. But often cellphone companies want to control that.

Sometimes, depending on a tower location, property owners can earn up to $75,000 a year.

Bennett wouldn’t say how much Brooker is getting.

“She has a fair rate.”

Bennett said Vancouver now has more than 500 cellphone towers. Previously, they were located in non-residential areas, but now consumer demand is forcing those towers into residential areas.

An iPod now uses 1,300 times more band with than a voice-only cellphone, he pointed out. Concerns about health effects are diminishing. It’s similar to when television came in – people were worried about X-rays from the tube.

He added that more radio frequency waves are given off from fluorescent lights than cellphone towers.

Heather McNeill of Whonnock ACT  told council that a World Health Organization study points to high radio frequency waves as possibly carcinogenic. She pointed out that while towers are supposed to meet Industry Canada’s Safety Code 6, that’s currently under review.

She told council that the petition asked that cellphone towers not be located in residential areas or near schools and said that a study done in Colwood, near Victoria, showed that property values near cell towers dropped seven per cent.

The group also wants Maple Ridge to create a policy on cellphone tower placement and not to endorse Alcatel’s proposal.

However, according to the American Cancer Society, there’s “little evidence” to support that cell towers are a health risk.

MP Randy Kamp told council that it should develop a policy on cellphone towers rather than use the default policy of Industry Canada, which requires notification of all residents living within a radius that’s three times the height of the tower, as well as newspaper advertising.

Cell towers are under federal jurisdiction and municipalities cannot decide their locations.

However, a staff report says there’s “some flexibility” in siting the towers and that applicants have to consult with Maple Ridge. That consultation is still ongoing.

If the district had its own policy, the issue would be clearer for residents, Kamp added.

But Coun. Judy Dueck said that could be creating a false sense of hope when the district has no say in whether a cell tower is built within its borders.

However, the district could express where it would like towers to go and the proponent could consider that, Kamp said.

While the tower wouldn’t have to meet local bylaws, it would have to comply with the Fisheries Act or the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

The district then can say whether it concurs with the project or not.