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Opposition to radio towers mounts

Published on Fri, Sep 27, 2013 by Meg Olson

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Groups on both sides of the border opposing the relocation of KRPI AM radio towers to Point Roberts continue to hatch, as comments pile up in county planning and development offices.

“I’m still just reading comments right now,” said Whatcom County planner Suzanne Bosman. “I’m getting videos, medical information from doctors…”

Bosman said she has received comments from more than 100 people on the June 2013 application from BBC Broadcasting for a conditional use permit (CUP) to build “a radio communication facility, which will include five lattice and signal antenna towers, which together will create a broadcast signal.” 

KRPI currently broadcasts out of Ferndale as Sher E Punjab, which bills itself as “your #1 South Asian voice.” The one 
comment supporting the radio station’s application comes from the executive committee of the Lynden Sikh Temple and the American Sikh community of Whatcom County. “Radio KRPI has been a great resource and asset for the Sikh families for more than a decade,” they wrote.

Sher E Punjab is one of three AM stations broadcasting South Asian content into Canada from transmitters located in northern Washington. Radio Punjab, which previously broadcasted from the Ferndale location, now broadcasts out of Oak Harbor. Radio India broadcasts from Blaine.

KRPI’s 2005 application to renew its license with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was approved despite strong opposition from Ferndale residents who reported radio interference affecting electronic devices including computers, phones, baby monitors and ham radios. The station’s engineers, investigating the options for relocating the towers, referred to Ferndale as a “poisoned well.”

Opponents of the project disagree with the application statement that it “will have little or no impact on the natural environment, resource lands, or the existing character of the area.”

Point Roberts and Tsawwassen residents attending the September 10 meeting of the Point Roberts Community Advisory Committee (PRCAC) were united in their opposition to moving the towers to the Point, though there was disagreement about how best to derail the project. 

PRCAC chair Arthur Reber insisted the best approach was to target inaccuracies in the station’s application to the FCC to broadcast from the Point, approved in 2012, and appeal that approval. “Have they willfully misrepresented themselves in their application to the FCC?” he asked. “We need to find a legal component that will knock them cold.”

Steve Wolff felt sustained opposition from both sides of the border with solid information about the possible negative effects of the facility would have an impact with county staff in the county hearing examiner. “There are damages that they cannot mitigate,” he said. “One of these is blanket interference.”

“The conditional use permit application clearly states they are responsible for all mediation for the first year,” Reber said.

“They didn’t fix the problems in Ferndale,” Wolff said. “And after a year they don’t even have to try,” added Point Roberts Taxpayers Association (PRTA) president Mark Robbins.

Engineering documents filed with the FCC showing the contours of the area that would be affected by one volt per meter (v/m) indicate most of the signal will be going north of the border, though one quarter of the Point would also be within that exposure level, the northeasterly quarter during the day and northwesterly quarter at night.

According to telecommunications and wireless consultants Lawrence Behr Associates, “unless there are specific threshold limits that are known beforehand, we use 1 v/m as a point of concern. We do realize, however, that some systems are rendered incapacitated by RF interference levels of more than one hundred times smaller values.”

Eric Denny with Physio Control, makers of the LIFEPAK defibrillators, stated that those units should not be affected by a field strength less than 3 V/m but that they might be affected within that contour. “If a user found themselves using a LIFEPAK AED inside the 3 V/m contour line and it was not working normally, re-orienting (e.g., rotating the patient and the AED 90 degrees) may allow normal operation,” he said, or remove the patient from the area.

Joey Lomicky, speaking for the Medtronics technology company, stated “the electromagnetic field from a broadcasting AM radio tower presents no risk of interference with Medtronic implantable cardiac rhythm devices.”

Bosman said that due to the volume of new information they are receiving, the county has effectively combined the comment periods for state environmental policy act (SEPA) review and overall project review. 

Under this state-approved process the county can put off issuing a SEPA determination of non-significance up until the time they release their staff report to the county hearing examiner. “I might be going back to BBC, Inc. and asking for more information,” she said.

Though the SEPA comment period officially closed August 16, Bosman said comments can still be submitted and can also be introduced into the record at the time of the hearing, which she speculated will be in November or December.
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