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Microwave engineer weighs in on radar tower

By PAULETTE LeBLANC - | Feb 3, 2021



Alfred Hislop of St. James City is a microwave engineer with more than 45 years of experience, specializing in millimeter, or short-wave mics, who opposed a radar tower in the town of his summer home in Colorado, not unlike the one currently being proposed on Pine Island.

According to Hislop, the state of Florida defines a communication facility as a facility that may be used to provide communication services.

“If we look at a high-powered radar,” said Hislop, “it is actually an anti-communication facility, in that it provides huge amounts of radiated power for its own use.”

Hislop explains that it is not intended to communicate with any other facility leaving a great disparity between a high-powered radar system and a wireless communication facility.

“In this case, the radar itself produces a million watts of electromagnetic radiation at its peak pulse power,” said Hislop. “On top of that you have an antenna that directs that radiation in a very narrow beam and as a result the effective radiated power is greatly increased. For this facility, that is approximately 30 billion watts, which is a pretty high effective radiated power. If you compare that to a wireless communication system, the receivers of those wireless communication systems are designed to be very sensitive and quite often will be sensitive to power levels that are less then 1 billionth of one watt, so if you have a high powered radiator that’s radiating huge amounts of power, and you have very sensitive receivers nearby…you have the propensity to cause interference.”

Interference problems with surrounding communications, such as the local fire station, are only a small sample of the possible issues Hislop foresees in the proposed Doppler Radar tower. He says the FCC has regulations that require AM radio stations not to interfere with other AM radio stations and FM stations not to interfere with other FM stations. He says the same is true for TV stations, however, regarding unlicensed consumer electronics, such as personal WIFI and computer systems, the rules state they must accept interference from any source. In other words, he said, there is no protection from interference for consumer electronics. The FCC considers it the responsibility of local planning and zoning authorities.

“If you look at the rules for Lee County placing these facilities,” said Hislop, “there’s no mention at all of interference of consumer electronics.”

The main obstacle in placing the tower on Pine Island, in Hislop’s opinion, is the height limitation because Pine Island, he said, is designated a special area, due to its unique characteristics, limiting commercial structures. Wireless communications, however, are granted exceptions to this designated height limitation, therefore, in his opinion, if an applicant contends use of the facility as a wireless communication system, they may be granted an exception.

“The Lee County definition of a wireless communication,” said Hislop, “is any personal wireless service, radio and television broadcast services and any other radio frequency signals, including amateur radio — so Lee County, by adding the phrase, any other radio frequency signals, has created a huge loophole in the regulations.”

By this definition he said a high-powered commercial microwave dehydrator would be considered a wireless communication system. In fact, he went on to say the same applies to a common ordinary microwave oven.

“The applicant has apparently asked Lee County to classify a high-powered radar system as a wireless communication system,” said Hislop. “If it is accepted as a wireless communication system, then there are exceptions to the height limitations for Pine Island. Wireless communication systems can be approved with a variance if they use a monopole or a single pole to a height of 90 feet. Anything over 90 feet requires another special exception.”

Hislop maintains the tower cannot be maintained without a big lattice structure to support it, making size another relevant consideration for islanders.

A public information meeting with Morris Depew Associates regarding the installation of a 110-foot Wink News Doppler radar tower on Pine Island for parent company Fort Myers Broadcasting, was held on Sept. 2. The address of the site for the tower is 4798 Stringfellow Road in Saint James City. Fort Myers Broadcasting is ready to begin construction on the property, which they own, on Pine Island, if and when a hearing examiner grants permission to do so.

Local Wink News Chief meteorologist, Jim Farrell previously explained some of the benefits of having the tower on Pine Island on behalf of the parent company saying it adds to the safety and security of weather forecasting in southwest Florida.

“We would, in effect, have a Doppler radar that would be capable of showing southwest Florida more accurate information than is available now from any other radar, including the National Weather Service. Having our own dual pole Doppler, especially on Pine Island in Lee County will allow us much more accurate information in real time at our fingertips. In certain weather situations that would translate to shortened warning times and better warning information for everybody,” he said.