Grey Highlands council wants to see high speed internet service available in rural areas as soon as possible.
Council, at its regular meeting last Wednesday morning, approved a recommendation from its planning department to fast track a project that is working to extend high-speed availability to rural residents across Grey County.
At the meeting Grey Highlands Planner Lorelie Spencer brought forward a report recommending that Site Plan Control fees the municipality usually charges for planning projects be condensed for Everus Communications – the company facilitating the Rural Broadband Initiative in Grey County.
Everus is currently in the middle of a process to locate up to 27 high-speed internet towers across Grey County. Everus requested that Site Plan Control fees be condensed into one fee for the various towers it would like to put up in Grey Highlands.
High-speed internet service in rural areas depends on a direct line of site to a customer’s home. Everus plans to strategically place towers around the county allowing broadband service to be available to a maximum number of homes. Everus has received grants from the federal government under program designed to extend high-speed internet services to rural areas across the country.
Spencer told council that a reduction in the Site Plan Control fees is warranted. She recommended that a single fee of $10,000 (to cover municipal planning department costs on the project) for the entire Everus project. Under standard planning practices each tower would be treated as a separate application and charged the same fees by the municipality.
Council was supportive of Spencer’s recommendation. Members of council were anxious to see broadband service extended across their municipality.
Deputy Mayor Dave Fawcett wondered if council could further speed up the process by allowing municipal planning staff the ability to grant approval for applications once all conditions have been met.
"This is a project for the betterment of our community. Can we streamline the process? I’m willing to delegate the approval process to staff instead of (Everus) waiting 10 days for council’s approval," said Fawcett. "I know there are a lot of people that need high speed internet," he said.
Mayor Brian Mullin and Spencer said final approval of all Site Plan Control proposals rests with council. The Mayor said council needed to hold onto that authority in case public concerns arise.
"Council’s approval might be the only chance for public concerns to be aired," said the Mayor. The broadband towers do not require the public process of re-zoning to move forward. Spencer recommended that all Everus sites be included in one report and approved at a single council meeting in the future.
Mayor Mullin agreed with Spencer’s assessment.
"I think we need the luxury that if one site requires a higher level of scrutiny that the others can move forward," he said.
Deputy Mayor Fawcett was also satisfied with the suggestion that all the sites could be dealt with at once.
"I think this is a fair process. If there are 10 sites and nine of them are fine we can deal with the one with issues," he said.
Council approved the recommendation from Spencer.