Ten years after the radio towers fight


It has been 10 years since Point Roberts residents discovered that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had given the go ahead to BBC Broadcasting (BBC) to build an array of five 150-foot-tall radio towers on a 10-acre lot at the corner of Tyee Drive and McKenzie Way.

Many likely don’t know about this episode and it seemed like the right time to inform, amuse and alert because these sorts of threats to our community can happen again.

BBC operated a Punjabi language radio station (KRPI) in Ferndale and wanted to move to Point Roberts and broadcast at 50k watts, the most powerful AM signal that the FCC allows. The FCC had denied their request to boost their transmissions in Ferndale because of blanketing interference, which would compromise electronic devices, including an FCC monitoring station. BBC wanted their signal to be clearer to residents of B.C.’s Lower Mainland – their target audience. But broadcasting from Point Roberts would cause unmitigatable damage across the entire Tsawwassen peninsula. BBC’s applications to the FCC and the county never mentioned Tsawwassen and the 25,000 people whose lives would have been forever altered by high powered electromagnetic radio waves raining down on them 24/7. 

The real trouble began, of course, when Whatcom County Planning & Development Services (PDS) approved BBC’s construction application. A group of dedicated residents in both countries got together, dubbed ourselves the Cross-Border Coalition (XBC) and began the fight. Our core argument was that the towers violated the height restrictions in Point Roberts. Although the FCC approved BBC’s construction permit, BBC could only move forward if local zoning allowed for it. BBC’s lawyers maintained that approval by the FCC over-ruled local regulations – and the PDS agreed, a decision which was egregiously wrong and, as we discovered, violated FCC’s own policies.

XBC hired attorney Bob Carmichael who specialized in zoning regulations as our legal representative. He made our case before the county hearing examiner who agreed and overruled PDS, something we learned rarely happens. BBC’s lawyers appealed and off to the courts we went.

For nearly three years, our group held events, auctions and many fundraisers to cover the $250,000 the fight cost us − as BBC’s lawyers peppered us with every legal maneuver they could find. Finally, a formal hearing was held in Skagit County Superior Court.

We maintained that Point Roberts had a height restriction in Whatcom County Code and in the end, the judge who had been hearing the case agreed. The height restriction saved us from five huge, unsightly radio towers at the entrance to Point Roberts and from the blanketing interference which would have flooded the entire Tsawwassen peninsula.

Winning a David and Goliath fight is nothing short of extraordinary and almost unheard of today, but our group stayed together, stayed focused and continued the fight to the end. Enduring friendships were formed and celebrated including the marriage of two coalition members.

It was quite an adventure, but not one any of us would want to repeat.


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