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Islander takes part in fight against radar tower

By PAULETTE LeBLANC - | Feb 24, 2021

SHUTTERSTOCK.COM

pleblanc@breezenewspapers.com

Retired financial executive Jeff Waller and his wife Lisa moved from Wisconsin to Pine Island after they had fallen in love with the idyllic setting. They’d traded high-rise buildings, noise and traffic lights for estuaries, mangrove and scenic views set against the backdrop of Pine Island Sound.

“I looked at the top 10 quaintest communities in Florida and stumbled on Matlacha,” said Waller.

They had no idea, however, that a proposal would be submitted soon after their arrival to build a radar tower on their lovely new island. Not long after relocating to Pine Island, the Waller’s attended a meeting of the GPICA at the Elks Club, where they immediately became members.

The reasons they were drawn to the tower issue are two-fold. The first reason, he said, is the tower’s inconsistency with the character of the island. After doing some research on the Lee Plan coastal/rural future land use classification of Pine Island, Waller said the only conclusion the couple could come to was that the type of commercial development meant for the island had to have been animal clinics, bait and tackle shops, and farm and feed stores. A 110-foot radar tower didn’t seem to the Wallers to fit the intended profile at all.

The second issue is one of health.

“We were concerned with all the radiation that would be projected from that tower,” said Waller. “There has been a ton of research pointing to the biological and cell structure impact of radiation, and that concerned us. We moved to this island in hopes of a less dense, more rural, laid-back island and all of a sudden we’ve got a huge radiation device coming here. That was kind of shocking to us.”

Waller was heartened to find that most islanders seemed to share his attitude in maintaining the island as it is, rather than getting on a fast track to technology.

When former National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Rapsik saw a presentation on the tower, GPICA President Scott Wilkinson referred him immediately to Waller, who communicated with him regularly from that point in discussions regarding the tower. Shortly after that, microwave engineer Alfred Hislop emailed Waller, offering his help, as he had fought against the construction of a similar tower in another state.

The land use plan for Pine Island, as Waller understands it, is a vision of the preservation of the beauty, character and wildlife synonymous with living here. While he admits that he’s a businessman and understands the strategy behind business development, he and his wife simply believe Pine Island is not the place for a radar tower of this magnitude.

On Feb. 9, Fort Myers Broadcasting withdrew its application for the 110-foot Doppler radar tower it hoped to build on Pine Island. The application was withdrawn without explanation.

Whether or not the fight to keep the tower off of Pine Island is over remains to be seen, but for now, Waller is breathing a sigh of relief that the application has been withdrawn with no known plans to continue.

“We humbly celebrate an initial victory, but we guardedly await the rest of the story,” he said.