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Residents upset over Pt. Roberts radio tower proposal

People on both sides of the border concerned about potential impact

Residents on both sides of the border at Point Roberts are voicing concerns about a plan to erect five large radio broadcast antennas in the U.S. peninsula.

Whatcom County is considering an application from BBC Broadcasting Inc. to construct the 150-foot steel towers at an undeveloped lot on McKenzie Way, just west of Tyee Drive in Point Roberts, WA. It’s in close proximity to the border with Tsawwassen. The towers would transmit South Asian radio station KRPI, AM 1550, which broadcasts from studios in Richmond, B.C.

Currently broadcasting at 50,000 watts during the day using antenna located in Ferndale, WA, the company has already completed a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) checklist for the project to comply with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).  Several professional studies were completed, including a visual resources report that concluded the visual impact should be minimal. Another report states the towers do not appear to present a significant risk to birds.

The FCC last year granted a construction permit for the radio communication facility,

but a conditional use a permit is still required from the county.

A report by the Whatcom County Planning and Development Services notes the department has reviewed the application for potential adverse impacts and expects to issue a “Determination of Non-Significance (DNS)” for the project. A county hearing examiner must also give his stamp of approval following a public hearing.

A comment period, open only for residents on the U.S. side of the border, wrapped up last week.

Arthur Reber, a member of the Point Roberts Community Advisory Committee, which organized a public meeting for concerned residents this week, told the Optimist there was little notification. He said many in the community only found out recently about the application.

“The mood of Point Roberts is, shall we say, the tar is boiling in the back and the folks with the feathers are plucking chickens to get ready for it. Others are building guillotines,” he said.

Noting the antennas have been problematic and hugely controversial in Ferndale, Reber said residents have many concerns, including the likelihood of the powerful signal wreaking havoc with other broadcast signals as well as electronic devices.

Reber noted broadcast facilities may be seen as a necessary utility, however, the proposed antennas are for a Canadian radio station serving the Lower Mainland, and thus that infrastructure should be located in Canada.

He said residents are planning a long fight, including a formal appeal to Whatcom County council if the application receives approval.

Living just a few feet from the borderline, Tsawwassen resident Ralph Parker agreed there’s little doubt residents on both sides of the will be impacted by interference, including his Delta Amateur Radio Club.

“I thought what it’s going to do with other residents, and it’s going to be a large interference issue,” he said.

“It may be something that’s going to cause problems with the people at the border because being very close to all that huge amount of radio frequency energy, who knows what it will do to all their sensitive equipment on both sides of the border.  On the Canadian side the other day, I asked them what they knew about it and they didn’t know anything,” Parker said.

Tsawwassen resident Greg Edwards this week wrote to Whatcom County Planning and Development Services asking why an engineering report that supports the application ignores the fact that thousands of Canadians live nearby

He also questioned a claim that the towers would be welcome because Point Roberts was an economically depressed community, a claim he says Point Roberts residents would consider is nonsense.

Delta South MLA Vicki Huntington said it’s difficult to expect Washington State officials to consider the impacts their decisions might have on individuals north of the border, and they have no obligation to do so.

 “That said, I have indicated to them that we would appreciate it if they took into account the complaints U.S. citizens had in the first instance, i.e., the electrical humming and interference.  Respectfully requesting they recognize the impacts may continue to affect the residents of not only Point Roberts, but also their Canadian neighbours to the north, is about all we can do.  Hopefully, Whatcom County will take the issue into consideration when making their decision,” she said.

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