British Columbia

Ham radio tower frustrates Maple Ridge neighbours

Rresidents of a Maple Ridge neighbourhood have been fighting to have an amateur radio tower taken down, but an operators coalition says they provide a valuable service.

Amateur Radio Coalition says there are no safety issues with radio towers

Neighbours worry the ham radio tower could fall onto their house. (Anita Bathe/CBC)

For 10 years, residents of a Maple Ridge neighbourhood have been fighting to have an amateur radio tower taken down, but a coalition of ham enthusiasts says they're providing a valuable service.

The tower's next-door neighbours Al and Evelyn Shkuratomf say it's an intrusive and dangerous eyesore.

They also claim there are no engineering permits or papers to go along with the ham tower, and worry it could come down in a big windstorm or earthquake one day.

"We have this structure overhanging us with really no place to fall except on us," said Evelyn. "It's going to happen at some point in time."

To make matters worse, every time their neighbour starts broadcasting, they start getting strange sounds through their computer speakers from the radio interference, they say.

They've asked him to take it down, but say he has refused. So for ten years, the Shkuratomfs have been writing to Industry Canada in Ottawa for help.

But all they have received so far are generic replies from the faraway federal bureaucrats, with no offers of assistance.

"I've written a total of six or seven letters, pointed out the documentation they've created themselves and pointed out what they can do and what they should be doing and how the structure was built without following their guidelines, but nothing happens," she said.

Fighting from city hall

And it's not just the Shkuratomfs who want to see it taken down.

"It's annoying and it also just seems like an invasion," said Richard Cordes, who also lives in the neighbourhood.

"It's not properly tied down," agreed City Councillor Gordy Robson. "That thing is going to come over one day, and I don't know what the answer is going to be about why we let it stay there."

Robson also says he's heard complaints that it interferes with the 911 service in the area when the operator is broadcasting.

But like the Shkuratomfs, the city has been stonewalled in its efforts to remove it, he says.

"Our staff has taken it to everybody and we cannot find a way to do anything about that monstrosity."

'Don't hate us'

Amateur Radio Coalition co-founder James Fowler calls situations like these "frustrating."

"A lot of people just see it as an annoyance," he said. "That couldn't be further from the truth."

Fowler, who has also battled with his neighbours in Edmonton about his own 15-metre radio tower, admits that amateur radio operators are often "your typical geekier types" who admittedly do use the service to simply chat with people from all over the world.

But he says they also help with emergency situations when other forms of communications aren't available, like wildfires, earthquakes or even Maydays. 

"We're not here to piss off the public," Fowler said. "Don't hate us. We're just trying to help." 

"They don't realize fully what that amateur could be doing ... For all the neighbours know he could have saved somebody's life out there."

Fowler says the neighbours shouldn't be concerned about the safety of the tall towers. 

"It's definitely not unsafe. These towers are built and engineered by professional engineers. They're anchored in such a way to be freestanding and withstand typical B.C. weather, even extreme B.C. weather," he said.

As for sound coming through the neighbour's speakers, Fowler said it's likely because of poor manufacturing that doesn't properly shield them against radio interference and isn't the operator's fault. 

And he said there shouldn't be any interference with emergency operators because they work at a different frequency.

"If that was truly the case they would have legal grounds to actually pursue that," Fowler said. 

No response from owner or regulators

CBC News emailed the federal government and has not heard back, and the owner of the radio tower also declined to speak to CBC as well.

Meanwhile at city hall, Robson attributes the tower's staying power at least in part to a historical legacy from days when ham radio operators and their towers were considered an important part of critical infrastructure for communities.

"I don't think that's the case anymore, but they use that power to override bylaws, provincial laws and they are their own law." he said.

And while the Shkuratomfs say it's time the tower is taken down, others in the neighbourhood are wondering if there is any hope.

"Nobody likes it, but you sort of feel helpless," said neighbour Jeannie Swanson.

With files from Anita Bathe and Maryse Zeidler