Not in my backyard

I’m going to apologize for the length of this posting but I believe this information could prove useful for those amateurs contemplating the erection of an antenna and antenna supporting structure.

Every so often I get asked what we amateurs should do when a neighbour writes a letter to the editor complaining about the erection of an antenna supporting structure in their neighbourhood.

There is a natural tendency to want to write a letter in response but coming from a public relations point of view I’d caution against doing so without a closer examination of the situation.

I come to this conclusion from my own experience as a long-time newspaper editor, public relations practitioner and also from my personal experience erecting my antenna structure here at VE3HG.

As federally licensed amateur radio operators we have a right to erect antennas and supporting structures on our privately owned property. (See Tim Ellam, VE6SH’s suggestions about erecting towers on the RAC website.  This information has been somewhat superseded by newly approved federal government guidelines that now offer that if the antenna structure does not exceed 15 meters above ground it may be exempt from the public consultation process. See Industry Canada’s document CPC-2-0-03 Radiocommunications and Broadcasting Antenna Systems. Especially note section six.)

Don Hudson, VE7SOX, has written an excellent article on his issues with successfully erecting his antenna in the July/August 2009 issue of The Canadian Amateur. My own situation here at VE3HG in Oakville was featured in TCA back in 2003 or 2004 when I faced strong opposition from two neighbours who opposed my erection of my antenna structure. (One neighbour moved and the other was warned by police at my request about his harassing behaviour.)

So what to do if someone writes a letter to the editor of the local newspaper?

I’d suggest that after the letter is published if there are no further letters or articles written by the newspaper then it might be most prudent to take no further action.

Often these letters to the editor are more emotional than factual. Any attempt to correct the errors by sending a letter in reply is likely to just keep the issue in the public eye and to further inflame the original writer.

If the complainant has involved local politicians and they are speaking out in public it might be useful to send them a letter or go and visit them in person.

In a respectfully worded letter I’d suggest pointing out that the antenna support structure you propose is being erected on private property and complies with all aspects of Industry Canada’s document CPC-2-0-03. It would be useful to contact the local engineering department and determine if there is a local “policy” about TV, satellite or amateur radio structures and, if so, include that in the documentation.

(Here in Oakville, I was informed by the town engineer during a very friendly one-on-one meeting that so long as my antenna structure was within 16.6 meters in height then the town of Oakville would have no issue. He also told me unofficially that if I applied for exemption, there was no way in heck I’d get it passed by council has there had been an unfortunate incident some months before when another amateur erected a 48’ tower on a townhouse-sized lot without availing himself of the benefit of the consultation process. In my situation, after numerous attempts by one neighbour to involve town council, a letter was hand-delivered to him written by town staff telling him that my structure met town policy and that was the end of their involvement.)

If the situation has become a public issue and local politicians are involved I’d recommend creating a document that does address the misconceptions. For example, in a recent case, the letter writer made several erroneous statements that should be addressed.

For example, the writer claimed that her neighbour was erecting a “radio broadcasting tower”. The term “broadcasting” should be explained. Broadcasting implies the continuous transmitting of a “high powered” radio signal. This is not how an amateur radio station works. We all know that but local politicians would benefit from understanding that most amateur radio transmissions are brief, intermittent and absolutely safe.

In this case the writer went on say that the top of the tower would be “over 25-feet across”. Of course this description is incorrect and leaves the wrong impression. The top of the tower ends in mast which holds the antenna which (in the case of a standard three-element beam) has a turning radius of around15 feet. I’d compare the installation to looking like a standard television structure with a slightly larger antenna affixed on the top.

The letter states that the antenna will hang over the neighbour’s roof. I’d hope that this wasn’t true and if it was I’d reconsider my installation as this could be an issue with future neighbours and would likely draw unwanted attention from local politicians.

The writer says that “It will be capable of sending radio signals around the world.” I’d want to point out that millions of amateur radio operators around the world communicate with other hams using simple, safe equipment that often uses less than five watts of energy (less than a light bulb) and this is not an issue of concern.

Here we get more to the point when the writer states that “this tower is an eyesore”. This of course is a matter of opinion and should not be commented upon. In my own situation I did what I could to move the installation to the rear of my property. A similar installation to mine just a few blocks away was erected right behind the house and is much more visible from the street and yet solicited no adverse comments from neighbours there.

The next statement that “it will devalue our homes” can be contradicted. There has yet to be a case where this statement was proven true. When my neighbour claimed this to be true I asked her to supply me with the supporting information signed by her authority (which I discovered was a real estate agent friend of hers). No documentation was ever produced and the claim went away.

The writer goes on to say “of much more concern to me, is that there is still unknowns about the health effects of radio frequency fields.” This statement allows us to reiterate the overall safety of our low-powered intermittent radio transmissions and to include information about how raising an antenna above ground is such a good and safe practice.

In the letter the writer says that “the transmitter has been compared to a cell phone in its power output, but you wouldn’t put your kids to bed with a cell phone turned on under their pillow?”

Well! Lots of kids do keep their cell phones close to their heads and I would allow my kids to do that. Again statements like the one above give us an opportunity to clarify how the transmitter doesn’t radiate the signal but the antenna does and how radio wave energy falls off so quickly over short distances.

The writer continues by saying “this antenna it will be broadcasting only 60 feet away from my 10-month old’s bedroom.” Again here’s an opportunity to talk about how the intermittent strength of an amateur radio signal decreases so quickly over short distances and that like radio signals from AM, FM and TV transmissions which are present everywhere amateur radio signals are totally harmless.

The writer again goes on to claim that the amateur radio transmitter will be transmitting 24/7 which of course is nonsense.

The writer claims that the amateur transmitter will emit more electrical radiation (a word I would stay away from in talking with the public as non technical people don’t
understand the concepts of frequency, power and distance. If they did they’d understand that their microwave produces “radiation” too and I bet most of them would be appalled to learn this fact.) than a new 3G cell tower. I’d love to know her expert for this statement. She goes on to say it will have at least five times the output. Again our writer is obviously unfamiliar with power/frequency issues and so is the public. I’d not debate her directly but I would point out the errors, if necessary, to local politicians. You might want to quote your own local authority on this erroneous statement.

If this issue became part of a larger public debate, I’d book a visit with the local news editor and explain these errors that were contained in the letter and how they are not factual. Newspaper editors absolutely hate to have published information that isn’t true and constitutes what is essentially propaganda. The only caveat is they might write a news article which again would just inflame the opponents however, if there is an ongoing public debate, now would not be the time to stay silent.

So we come to the heart of the writer’s issue when she states that “this tower may be within our bylaws. These bylaws must be changed – they are inadequate and do not protect us from anyone erecting a large, tall and powerful source of electro-magnetic radiation within our close, residential areas.”

It is entirely likely that the tower does fall within municipal “policy”. (Because the erection of tower support structures falls within federal jurisdiction local municipalities are limited to passing “policies” which do not have the force of law — and might be subject to legal challenge). Such policies are a way for local politicians to find a way to accommodate the federal guidelines on antenna structures while at the same time appearing responsive to constituents’ concerns.

The writer concludes her letter by a call to action for readers to contact a local councillor (who she names) and tell her that “XXXX is a wonderful community to raise a family. Don’t let someone’s hobby change that.”

I would consider going to see the named councillor and ask if the letter is an issue. If so, I’d produce a point by point rebuttal of the letter much as I have here in this posting. I’d be reassuring the councillor that I wanted to do everything I could to ease the concerns of my neighbour but as those concerns are so unfounded in fact and so emotional in content that I am trying to do what I can to address these issues in a reasonable and factual way.

After all was discussed and a fact sheet shared, I’d point out that just like everyone else in the community I have a right to my hobby. If amateur radio was disallowed what would be next: TV antennas and satellite dishes on private property? Or gardening if someone objected to my plants? Or pets? And the list goes on….

From my own experience I found Industry Canada (Burlington office) did not want to become directly involved in my situation but they certainly were aware of it.

Prior the installation of my tower I supplied them and the Town of Oakville with complete documentation of my installation. The Town of Oakville (engineering department) made it perfectly clear that if I stayed within town “policy” then they too would have no issue with my antenna support structure and they stayed true to their word.

Due to the guidelines of the day I did notify twelve neighbours (which exceeded the recommendations) and heard back from just the two who complained. (BTW I kept all of the written responses and replied to all including a note that I kept a copy for my own files as I was anticipating a possible legal challenge from one neighbour.)

If my situation had reached the level of public discussion I would have done what was needed to provide my local politicians and the editor of my local newspaper with sufficient factual and quotable material as necessary to raise the discussion from one of emotional nimbisim (not in my backyard) to reasonable discussion and accommodation for all interests.

3 Responses to “Not in my backyard”


  • Vince d'Eon VE6LK /3

    Peter,
    This is a very informative post — thank you for this information.

  • Peter: An excellent and informative post. I have had no personal experiences or issues with either neighbours or local officials at any time during my 45+ years as a ham. In most cases a pre-existing structure, i.e. TV tower was used as a support, so there was no real reason for anyone to take exception to the antennas. In our current location the property is surrounded on two sides with trees taller than 15 meters, so it is not really an issue. That and the fact that we have 2.5 acres.
    73,
    Glenn, VE3GNA

  • Not sure why more people don

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