Radio-frequency water meters will be installed in the Pender Harbour area and eventually across the entire regional water system, the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) infrastructure services committee decided Sept. 6.
The recommendation to the board was made over the objections of West Howe Sound director Lee Turnbull, who urged committee members to postpone the decision until they had more information on potential health impacts.
Turnbull dismissed the five-page report by SCRD staff as "a lot of rationalization and justification" for the new technology.
"It's a very one-sided report in terms of talking about the benefits of radio-frequency meters. Where are the concerns? I'm not seeing any of that in this report," she said.
In the report, staff said the amount of electromagnetic energy emitted by the new devices would be "far less than the acceptable limits outlined by Health Canada."
Under Health Canada's Safety Code, the emissions are "not harmful to humans as exposure will not exceed six minutes of constant energy absorption," but will transmit for only 60 seconds every 24 hours, the report said.
Gibsons director Gerry Tretick said exposure from cell phones is "multiple times" higher than from radio frequency devices.
"If we don't trust Health Canada, who do we trust?" Tretick said.
Pender Harbour/Egmont director Frank Mauro noted that the meters are situated on the roadside "nowhere near where people congregate" and moved to proceed with the new devices, initially in the Pender Harbour area.
As an amendment to help allay Turnbull's concerns, Halfmoon Bay director Garry Nohr requested staff provide the committee with more in-depth medical information from both Canadian and U.S. agencies on possible health effects.
CAO John France said much of that information had already been provided to the board but could be reassembled, and he acknowledged, "There is going to be some concern in the communities about this."
Roberts Creek director Donna Shugar added a second amendment, picking up on France's suggestion to provide residents as well with medical data on the issue before implementation.
The recommendation and amendments passed with Turnbull opposed. The motion was to come back to the board yesterday (Sept. 13) for ratification.
Although one of the benefits of the radio-frequency meters is their low operating cost, the estimated capital outlay will come in $280,000 higher than touch-pad meter heads for Pender Harbour and $1.8 million higher for the whole region, said the report.
However, over a 20-year period, the total capital and operating cost is expected to be at least $730,000 lower than with touch-pad technology.
The report cites the city of Kamloops, which opted for the new technology after estimating the annual operating cost would be $5,000 to $10,000 compared to $200,000 for a touch-pad system.
In late July, the SCRD announced it would install water meters in Pender Harbour to satisfy a condition of grant funding for a new water treatment facility.
The work is expected to begin in spring 2013 and be completed in 2014.
The timeline for the move to universal metering will be conditional on the regional district obtaining grant funding for the upgrade, staff said after the meeting.
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