Ninilchik residents get mixed signals from radio antenna

Tower sparks interest

Posted: Tuesday, July 30, 2002

An array of high-frequency radio antennas designed to broadcast religious programming to Russia and the Far East under construction near Ninilchik has neighbors concerned that the transmissions could be hazardous to birds, animals and, perhaps, human beings caught in the cone of radio energy to be beamed across Cook Inlet.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Corps of Engineers has handed developers a cease and desist order because of possible wetlands violations.

The Environmental Protection Agency also has been investigating the project.

According to a copy of the construction permit application seeking authority to erect the new international broadcast station, the company building the complex is addressing the wetlands concerns. As for hazards associated with the project, company officials say there would be no danger to the public or to wildlife.

The broadcasting complex is being built by Aurora Communications International Inc., a California-based nonprofit corporation that produces and disseminates Christian educational programming and radio broadcasting.

According to corporate president Alexander Kozned, the nonprofit is supported by donations from individuals and groups and the project is being built by volunteers, many of whom come to Alaska from Outside during the summer to work.

Kozned said last week that the company would first build a "curtain" antenna close to the bluff consisting of an array of horizontal wires -- "radiating elements" -- strung between two towers roughly 200 feet high. Initially, transmission will be at 100 kilowatts, about the power at which a similar station near Anchor Point -- KNLF -- currently broadcasts. Eventually, he said, the power could be boosted to 250 kilowatts.

Kozned said the station's transmission power isn't unusually high nor the towers unusually tall.

"This is not going to be Voice of America," he said. "They broadcast at 500 kilowatts. They have antennas that are whoppers compared to ours."

According to Kozned's permit application, the antenna will focus its signal into a flattened cone shape and aim it 11 degrees above the horizon, bouncing its signal off the ionosphere and down into European Russia. The signal also may reach into Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq, he said.

"We are trying to say Americans aren't monsters as they have been taught to believe," he said. "I feel very strongly we will be assisting our country in trying to reach peace. The only way to do that is to reach people."

Kozned said he hoped the gospel of Jesus Christ would open their understanding.

Eventually, Aurora hopes to erect two more antennas of different types and expand its broadcasting to include Siberia, China and Japan.

Kozned's Ninilchik-area neighbors, Paul and Sue Dionne, say they have no problem with the message, but they have concerns about the engineering and power of the transmitters and what they might mean for birds, animals and people. The Dionnes' home is about a mile or so north of the Aurora land, but they also own and plan to subdivide property adjacent to Aurora's.

In late June, they filed an "informal complaint" with the FCC over several issues and are seeking to postpone Aurora's permit.

Paul Dionne said there are discrepancies between information supplied to the FCC and the statements made by Aurora Communications concerning what was to be erected on the property and how it would be used. Dionne said Kozned had stated that the signal would be bounced off the surface of Cook Inlet toward the ionosphere. The FCC application says nothing about bouncing a signal off the water.

Dionne also said Aurora did not properly notify the public regarding its FCC application. No public notice was printed in any local newspaper nor posted at the Ninilchik Post Office. Kozned said Ninilchik had no paper and the signal was not going to be beamed at major Alaska cities where other newspapers are published. Therefore, he said he believed he had met the public-notice obligations of the application.

Dionne said the station is being built near state critical habitat areas and on the edge of Cook Inlet, "an area used extensively for commercial fishing, clamming and sportfishing." He also noted that bald eagles and other bird species are commonly seen flying along the bluff in an area that would be directly in the high-energy beam. Further, Dionne said many animals use the bluff to travel the coastline, including bear, moose, wolves and coyotes, in the roughly 100 feet between the antenna and the bluff.

Meanwhile, below the bluff, Alaskans dig for razor clams during low tides.

"They (clammers) could be, at any given time, as close as 500 feet to the antenna field," Dionne said. "Also, sport fishermen troll for king salmon just a little way off the shoreline and could come in direct contact with the beams."

Dionne said Kozned told him that airplanes would not be allowed to fly within a mile of the antenna or risk loss of their electronics. The same would go for fishing boats. Dionne also said Kozned told him that metal fillings in teeth would "get hot" and that if one had a pacemaker to "forget it."

Kozned said he was either misunderstood or was joking. There is no intention to bounce the signal off the water, he said. Calculations of the energy density within the beam indicate no danger to birds, animals or humans beyond about 25 feet from the face of the antenna, he said. Birds would not be affected because of their size in relation to the wavelength of the signal, he said.

Wesley D. Becker, of Broadcast Engineering Consultants of Sun City, Calif., is consultant on the project. According to Becker, a person in front of the antenna at ground level at a greater distance than approximately 26 feet would not be exposed to a dangerous power density level. In addition, the signal is to be projected upward, further limiting the radiation density at ground level.

Jerry Leitch, radiation program manager for the EPA in Seattle, said the elevation was good news.

"At any kind of distance, even hundreds of yards away, a majority of the beam will be above them," he said. "That doesn't mean there won't be any field. But antenna designers are pretty good at calculating those things."

Kozned said the power density drops off logarithmically, meaning the density falls rapidly with distance. Fishing boat equipment would not be affected, nor would anyone on the beach below the 145-foot high bluff. Fences and signs will be erected, he said.

According to FCC guidelines for maximum permissible exposure, the proposed frequencies for the Aurora complex, 6 to 12 megahertz, are well below those that would be of most concern to humans -- 30 to 300 megahertz, where absorption by human bodies is most efficient.

Becker also said the FAA determined there would be no hazard to air navigation.

According to Phil North of the Environmental Protection Agency's Kenai office, work last year proceeded without a wetlands permit from Corps. EPA required Aurora to remove excess fill and restore some areas, work which was done.

Now the Corps is dealing with new illegal fill, which has generated the cease and desist order. North said he expects the Corps to turn over that matter to EPA shortly.

Kozned said Aurora is working on the wetlands issues with the Corps through its attorneys. He believes those issues will be resolved.

But the order and other issues have caused delays that will set completion of the first antenna back at least a year, he said.

"Everything is done with volunteers," Kozned said. "We've lost a year. The volunteers leave in August. We don't have contractors. We do what we can with the help that comes. We will proceed next year."

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