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Radio towers spark high wattage opposition

Published on Thu, Aug 22, 2013 by Pat Grubb

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An overflow crowd of more than 60 people showed up at the community center Tuesday night to talk about a proposal to build five 150-foot-high AM radio towers on a 10-acre parcel of land abutting Tyee Drive and McKenzie Way. If anyone attending was in favor of the idea, they kept their mouth well and truly shut. The topic was taken up by the Point Roberts Citizens Advisory Committee (PRCAC), a group appointed by the county executive to provide feedback to the county on issues concerning Point Roberts, in their August 20 meeting.

A Washington state company, BBC Broadcasting Inc., has applied for a conditional use permit (CUP) from Whatcom County to build the towers. The antennas will produce a broadcasting signal for KPRI Ferndale 1550 AM which bills itself as “your number 1 South Asian voice.” The company currently broadcasts at 50,000 watts during the day and 10,000 watts at night.

The company faced withering opposition from Ferndale residents in 2005 when it applied for re-licensing by the Federal 

Communications Commission (FCC). Numerous complaints of radio interference with radios, TV reception, baby monitors and ham radio stations were entered into the record all to no avail. Opponents drew attention to the fact that the radio is directed towards a Canadian audience and broadcast in a foreign language but were rejected on the grounds that foreign languages helped the FCC meet its goal of increasing diversity. How increasing Canadian diversity would aid the FCC’s American goals was not addressed.

The vehement opposition was noted by the engineering company tasked with finding a new location for the towers, which referred to the Ferndale location as being a “poisoned well.” It is not certain that the company has been successful in escaping that stigma in its choice of Point Roberts for the tower; a community referred to by the engineering consultants as being “economically depressed.”

Signs declaring “No Towers” have appeared on Tyee Drive near the proposed location and a Stop the Towers Campaign has been created to mobilize residents against the project. To join the email list, email s.rosser@inter-the-gateway.com. An online survey seeking to determine residents’ opinion received 436 responses, 387 (or 88.7 percent) that were opposed, 40 (or 9.1 percent) in favor with nine respondents saying they did not care. The survey was sent to subscribers of the All Point Bulletin’s weekly news update, the ePB, as well as the PointInterface mailing list. The response rate was nearly 40 percent.

PRCAC chair Arthur Reber presented a status report on the project to the crowd and pointed out that while the 15-day comment period had closed on Friday, August 16, senior county planner Suzanne Bosman had advised him that she would continue to enter comments into the record going forward. 

Reber pointed out that the CUP notice was only published in The Bellingham Herald with notices only being sent to properties within 1,000 feet of the project. 

“My guess is that the [planning department] will issue an environmental determination of non-significance (DNS),” said Reber, which would mean that the applicant would not be required to perform any further environmental reviews. He added that Bosman and county staff did not appear to know about the residents’ concerns in Ferndale, an incorporated city with its own planning department.

Following the staff recommendation, the CUP process moves to the county hearing examiner who will hold public hearings. Those speaking before the examiner are required to restrict themselves to issues of fact covered by the application and staff recommendation or to present issues that have not been adequately considered by the planning department. Either the proponent or opponents can appeal the decision of the hearing examiner to Whatcom County Council.

Reber told the audience that council is a quasi-judicial body and is not allowed to comment on any issue that might come before them. He added that four members of the seven-member council are up for election this fall and it would be interesting trying to determine how each of them might vote on a possible appeal.

Ham radio operator Steve Wolff told the crowd that Point Roberts’ ham radio club members were unanimous in their opposition to the towers. Citing an objection filed with the FCC, he recounted how one ham radio operator in Ferndale had received burns from the radio energy captured by his radio tower from the KRPI broadcasts. 

Reber encouraged the crowd to continue to write to the county planning department while another audience member suggested writers should include the fact that the towers do not fit into Point Roberts’ character plan.

The planning department will be posting all of the documents and studies that pertain to the project application. These materials may be viewed at www.whatcomcounty.us/pds/plan/current/current-projects.jsp. Comments should be sent to:

Suzanne Bosman

Senior Planner

Whatcom County PDS

5280 Northwest Drive

Bellingham, WA 98226

360/676-6907

sbosman@whatcomcounty.us

To receive updates from the Point Roberts Conservation Society’s “Stop The Towers” Campaign, send an email to s.rosser@inter-the-gateway.com requesting to join their email list.

To link to the survey, click survey.constantcontact.com/survey/a07e809mgquhkcxbqht/start

To read a story on the towers published in today's Vancouver Sun, go to http://www.vancouversun.com/news/Point+Roberts+Delta+residents+upset+radio+tower+proposal/8821589/story.html

To read the site selection report prepared for KRPI in March 2011 click here.

To read comments from Ferndale residents, click here.  

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