Telecommunication towers provide access to the world but they can also divide a community at a local level.
That’s what’s happening in Ballina Shire as the council grapples with an application to erect a tower at Uralba.
On one hand, there are numerous local residents who want access to the fastest possible internet speeds and improved mobile phone coverage, but on the other are those concerned about possible health risks, loss of visual amenity, and threats to the local koala population.
Added to the mix is a recommendation from the Ballina Byron Gateway Airport manager that the application be refused because the tower would be inside the airport’s flight path.
Ballina councilor Keith Williams has publicly called on his fellow councillors to be aware of a potential conflict of interest if they vote to refuse the tower on the basis of the airport manager’s advice.
He says too much weight is being given to the manager’s opposition, despite the plans being accepted by Civil Aviation Safety Authority CASA and independent consultants.
Cr Williams also linked the issue of the tower to council’s plans to effectively privatise the airport through a long-term leasing arrangement.
‘Is this tower a safety threat to current airport operations, or is the opposition to the tower that it will limit future expansion options?’ he said in an open letter.
‘I think this should serve as a warning to the communities in the flight path of the airport, such as Uralba and Skennars Head.
‘Your needs will come second to the need for council to make money out of the airport.’
He vowed to continue to oppose the privatisation plans.
Meanwhile, Ballina’s mayor David Wright dismissed Cr Williams suggestions that councilors had a conflict of interest.
He said all councillors wanted a tower to go ahead and would be working towards the best outcome.
Cr Wright said that while CASA said the tower could be approved if the council imposed certain conditions on the approval, but doing so, the council would become responsible in the event of a mishap.
‘At the moment the tower impedes the flight path of the airport and while it appears that CASA can approve it subject to stripes and flashing lights, but if we do that the council is responsible for the tower,’ he said.
Cr Wright said he had been in contact with the head of NBN, Tony Gibbs, along with NBN’s consulting firm VisionStream, and Page MP Kevin Hogan.
‘If we could move it 400 metres to the south it would meet everyone’s needs and would be outside the flight path,’ he said.
Another alternative, put forward by the recently-formed Lynwood Residents Group, was to move the tower into the Uralba Nature Reserve.
Cr Wright said all suggestions were being considered.
He also dismissed Cr Williams suggestion that councillors had a conflict of interest and were more interested in the future of the airport.
‘He was the only one who didn’t go to a workshop on this yesterday,’ Cr Wright said.
‘This is about taking on responsibility for the tower. Every single councillor wants a tower, even Keith does, but he wasn’t there to hear why the airport manager doesn’t support it.
The council meets tomorrow at the chambers in Cherry Street to decide on the issue.