Uproar over proposed radio towers in Point Roberts

Residents gathered at an information meeting on a proposed radio communications facility, held Tuesday evening (Aug. 20) in Point Roberts by the Point Roberts Community Advisory Committee, which provides recommendations to the Whatcom County executive. - Jim Kinnear photo
Residents gathered at an information meeting on a proposed radio communications facility, held Tuesday evening (Aug. 20) in Point Roberts by the Point Roberts Community Advisory Committee, which provides recommendations to the Whatcom County executive.
— image credit: Jim Kinnear photo

Residents on both sides of the border have concerns over a set of radio towers proposed in Point Roberts near Tsawwassen.

BBC Broadcasting has applied to Whatcom County for zoning approval in order to move its AM radio station KRPI’s five 145-foot tall radio antennas from Ferndale, Washington, to a 4.3-hectare site in Point Roberts at the corner of Tyee Drive and McKenzie Avenue.

KRPI, which bills itself online as “Your #1 South Asian Voice,” states on its website that it broadcasts at 50,000 watts during the day and 10,000 watts at night to listeners in the Bellingham and Vancouver areas. BBC Broadcasting is asking Whatcom County for “zoning conditional use approval” for the Point Roberts site, which is currently zoned rural, a use that is permitted for a public utility such as a radio communication facility.

A March 2011 engineering report on the site selection process stated that BBC Broadcasting was looking for a new site to “relieve Ferndale residents of the problems that the current location had caused in an effort to repair ties with the community that no longer wants a transmitter site and is unwilling to support the station.”

A 2005 document recorded complaints from Ferndale residents who said KRPI interfered with other radio stations, and that the station came through their telephone lines, speakers and baby monitors. One church pastor wrote that KRPI interrupted the congregation’s music, announcements and moments of prayer on a weekly basis.

In an email to the South Delta Leader, Tsawwassen resident Greg Edwards said the people of Tsawwassen and Point Roberts should be given as much consideration as those in Ferndale.

“Shouldn’t the owner of this radio station address the problems he has created in Ferndale rather than move them to The Point and Tsawwassen?”

Point Roberts resident Steve Wolff said the cynic in him suspects KRPI chose Point Roberts because of its proximity to potential listeners in the Lower Mainland, not to benefit the Whatcom County community, noting his friend sent him a photo of a KRPI advertisement on a Metro Vancouver bus.

“There’s absolutely no Punjabi or Telugu speakers here in Point Roberts. Everyone is worried about being racist, but that’s just the truth.”

He also suspects KRPI of trying to avoid backlash from Tsawwassen residents by locating in the U.S.

“It could be on the Tsawwassen side, but do you think the Tsawwassen residents are going to allow this on their side? Look at the fight over the power lines,” Wolff said, referring to local outrage when the provincial government upgraded power lines through Tsawwassen a few years ago.

He is concerned about the potential health impact of electromagnetic radiation on nearby residents, and that a number of second and third growth trees will have to be cut down.

“We don’t want to cut down all our trees and be just a suburb. We want to be something a little different than that, and that’s a huge deal for everybody.”

Whatcom County’s planning and development services department has posted a number of reports on its website related to the application.

A review by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) concluded the facility would have no effect on any endangered or threatened species, and that the amount of trees to be removed “is unlikely to be considered deforestation and does not constitute a significant change in surface features.”

An avian risk assessment states the communication towers “are not a significant or major risk to birds,” noting the design conforms to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommendations.

Another report by consulting engineering firm Hatfield and Dawson states that KRPI plans to mitigate the effects of “blanketing interference” from a transmitter on Tyee Drive in Point Roberts and has set up a process to handle “blanketing complaints.”

The deadline for written comments to the county’s planning and development services department was Aug. 16. Suzanne Bosman, a senior planner with Whatcom County, said that although Point Roberts residents were hoping the comment period could be extended, they had no legal authority to do so. Comments will still be accepted by the hearing examiner until the date of the public hearing, but they might not be included in the planning staff’s report.

Bosman does not expect a hearing to be held until at least mid-October.

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