What Meaford's council did in response to a plea from residents to establish a policy for the placement of microwave cell towers, and to make attempts to delay a proposed tower in a residential neighbourhood if at all possible, was astonishing – in a good way.
After listening to three representative speakers who all spoke to concerns of potential health issues associated with the placement of a cell tower in a residential neighbourhood, and near Meaford's Georgian Bay Secondary School, council, with a prepared resolution in hand, acted immediately.
Yes, this is the same council that initially supported a proposed waste-to-energy waste incinerator that was to be sandwiched between a residential home and an apple orchard, and then pushed back when residents began voicing concerns about possible health issues associated with a waste incineration facility.
The incinerator issue dragged on for weeks, and then months. Public meetings were held, email campaigns were started, and a petition that eventually had several thousand signatures was a clear sign that residents were extremely concerned. Residents shifted from being concerned to being outraged, and councillors became at times visibly irritated with the vitriol aimed in their direction by frustrated residents.
Eventually council came around – for the most part – and the project was eventually left to drift off into the history books.
That council eventually ditched the proposed project was a relief to many, but it certainly took a lot of energy, hours, and high levels of frustration to get there.
This time around, a different issue, a different location, but with the same concerns being expressed by residents, council didn't skip a beat before unanimously approving a resolution that addressed the concerns that had been expressed just minutes prior.
Minutes, not months. Unanimous, not divided. How things have changed for the good.
Two members of council must be afforded additional praise and appreciation for the instant acknowledgement of the concerns of their constituents, and the even more instant action taken.
Councillors Deborah Young and Lynda Stephens were the most ardent defenders of the proposed incinerator, and both were frustrated with the angry wave of public attention the proposal had garnered. One of them even went so far as to use her Blackberry to record video of some of the most critical residents at a large public meeting that was held on the issue.
Neither seemed to believe that any health problems could result from burning garbage to produce energy right beside an apple orchard. Both councillors at the time were equally aggressive in defence of the proposal and in their dismissal of resident concerns.
With the cell tower issue though, both Young and Stephens not only voted in favour of into the situation, they both acknowledge potential health implications of the erection of a cell tower near a school.
Are cell towers a danger to human health? Are residents right to be concerned?
I'm certainly not qualified to make those kinds of claims, but what I do know is something that Deputy Mayor Harley Greenfield also expressed during discussion of the issue at council this week. I know that throughout the history of the human civilization, there have always been products, foods, chemicals, insecticides, gadgets, machines, that when first created were thought to be wonderful advances in science and technology only to discover decades later that one wonderful product or another is actually extremely dangerous to human health.
At one time cigarettes were marketed as healthy and doctor-approved. Bloodletting at one time was thought to be an appropriate treatment for a range of ailments. We think differently today, don't we?
What I know is that history has taught us that we can't be too cautious in questioning the potential health effects of modern products and technology.
What I know is that a bit of research will tell you that there are serious questions being asked around the world about the safety of cell towers near residential neighbourhoods, and there are conflicting studies – though there does seem to be more of a case for concern than not.
Do I know if it is a good idea to put a microwave cell tower at the bottom of a hill, in a residential neighbourhood, in close proximity to a high school? No, I don't.
What do I know is that my friends and neighbours are concerned.
What I know is that this council did the right thing by moving swiftly to address the concerns of those they were elected to represent. And that is a major step in the right direction.