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The fight against the KRPI radio towers hits a snag

Published on Thu, Oct 10, 2013
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Swamped with form letters in support of relocating the KRPI radio towers to Point Roberts and boosting the Punjabi radio station’s signal, county planner Suzanne Bosman wants to shut the door on further general comments.

“I need solid stuff now,” Bosman said. “I’m still open to receiving pertinent, study-related evidence,” regarding possible environmental, health, interference and aesthetic effects of locating the towers on the Point.

The county is reviewing a conditional use application from BBC Broadcasting LLC to install an array of five 150-foot lattice radio towers at the corner of Tyee Drive and McKenzie Way. The facility will broadcast the Richmond, B.C. radio station Sher-e-Punjab operating as KRPI 1550 AM.

While prior to October 3 only one out of 100 comments received by Whatcom County supported the application, Bosman said she now has approximately 150, received in four packets, from the Punjabi community on both sides of the border.

Strong opposition to the project has come from residents of Point Roberts and Tsawwassen, a dozen of whom attended the October 8 meeting of the Point Roberts Community Advisory Committee (PRCAC) where efforts to defeat the proposal were the core of the agenda. 

“We need to continue to push and let them know there are a great number of people in Tsawwassen as well as Point Roberts who are strongly opposed,” said Tsawwassen resident Nancy Beaton. Beaton said a meeting was planned for Wednesday, October 23 at 7 p.m. in the South Delta Secondary School theatre to discuss community concerns about the project. Vicki Huntington, a member of the British Columbia Legislative Assembly, has committed to attend, as well as environmental advocate Milt Bowling, whom Beaton described as an expert in electric and magnetic fields (EMF).

“Our only goal is to prevent a nuisance from pouring over the border,” said Steve Graham, another Tsawwassen resident. That nuisance is radio frequency interference. KRPI is currently located in Ferndale, where there have been loud complaints from residents about radio interference affecting cordless phones, computers, baby monitors and HAM radios. 

PRCAC chair Arthur Reber said the recently formed group Fight the Towers (FTT) was preparing four “position papers” to submit to the county with information on errors and omissions in the application materials, benefits to the community, EMF effects and the overall impact on the community. 

Reber said they would also submit materials arguing that the contour lines showing the extent of a one-volt per meter electromagnetic field that would be emitted by the towers in relation to the population density were misrepresented by applicants. “They didn’t take Tsawwassen into account and the main body of Tsawwassen residents are within that contour,” he said. “If they had, it’s 45 times more population density than allowable under the guidelines.”

With the towers 150 feet tall, two of them lighted, Reber said they also would argue the towers would be a visual blight that would violate the Point Roberts character plan. 

There is a precedent in Point Roberts for this argument. An application for a television tower on the corner of Johnson Road and Monte Drive was denied by hearing examiner Ed Good in 1993 because “it would not be harmonious and in accord with the zoning regulations for Point Roberts because it cannot be constructed, operated and maintained in harmony and appropriate appearance with the intended or existing character of the vicinity.” However, current hearing examiner Michael Bobbink twice approved the same tower at a different location across the street. Whidbey Telephone Company has a tower very close to the location approved by Bobbink. Bosman said county staff is currently reviewing the county comprehensive plan, the Point Robert subarea and character plans to “confirm compliance with these regulations.”

Reber said FTT is also preparing material that will address the issue of what benefit the facility would bring to Point Roberts, which is required of a public utility like a radio station under county codes. “BBC argues they will provide advantages to the community but it’s bogus,” Reber said.

Andy Skotdal, owner of two powerful AM radio stations in Everett and a veteran at dealing with controversies surrounding broadcast facilities siting, has been retained as a consultant by BBC Broadcasting. He said KRPI has a “substantial audience base” that could “represent a significant tourism base for Point Roberts to draw from.”

“It might be true but it’s empty,” Reber said, adding that Point Roberts businesses already have the opportunity to advertise with KRPI to reach that same audience. None do.

Skotdal also said KRPI would broadcast emergency alerts in English. “One or two local HAM radio operators can only serve the Point for so long without water or electricity, and they aren’t really serving everyone because few people have radios capable of receiving ham radio frequencies,” he said. KRPI will have infrastructure designed to remain on air during regional emergencies.

Fire chief Christopher Carleton said he is still researching what impact an AM radio facility would have on emergency communications and what mitigation might be appropriate. He added, however, that his department would rely on ham radio operators for communications during a regional emergency.

“Finally, and most importantly, KRPI will be required by the FCC to produce programming specifically for Point Roberts, which they plan to do in English,” Skotdal said. The KRPI website currently has a link featuring event listings for Ferndale.

Bosman said additional material received from the applicant will be available on the county planning website as of October 10 addressing radio frequency emissions, interference and exposure standards. At an October 2 meeting, county planners and legal staff met with the applicants to identify areas of concern and the county intends to issue a letter next week requesting more information on environmental, health, interference, and aesthetic concerns. 

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