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UPDATED: Whatcom County upholds radio tower denial

They got the decision they were hoping for from Whatcom County council, but the fight may not be over just yet.

They got the decision they were hoping for from Whatcom County council, but the fight may not be over just yet.

At a packed council meeting at the county courthouse in Washington State on Tuesday evening, the council announced that it was upholding a decision by the county hearing examiner to reject an application to build several radio transmission towers in Point Roberts, near the Tsawwassen border.

It was another sweet victory for Point Roberts and Tsawwassen residents, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, as they had been fighting hard on several fronts to stop the contentious plan.

“Another huge sigh of relief and evidence that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can indeed change the world. Whatcom County council rewarded the coalition's hard work and persistence ensuring justice prevails,” said Nancy Beaton with the Cross Border Coalition to Stop the Towers.      

Noting the coalition deserves enormous praise for its fine and cooperative work, Delta South MLA Vicki Huntington, who was on hand at the meeting, said “there was a wonderful gasp of relief” but no clapping out of respect for the proceeding.

Noting it’s been a costly legal battle, Point Roberts coalition member Arthur Reber on his blog said, “This has been one hell of a fight. It’s been going on now for two and half years, since August, 2013 when we first discovered that the FCC had approved the project and that the County’s Planning and Development Services was processing the paperwork.”

BBC Broadcasting Inc. wants to build five 45 metre (150-foot) steel transmission towers at an undeveloped lot on McKenzie Way in Point Roberts. The towers would have transmitted South Asian radio station KRPI, AM 1550, which broadcasts from studios in Richmond for its Lower Mainland audience. Also known as Sher-E-Punjab AM 1550, the station currently broadcasts using antenna in Ferndale, but wanted to relocate them for a stronger all-day signal.

Concerned about electrical interference and other impacts, the residents’ arguments included the application being fraudulent because a map submitted to the Federal Communications Commission left out Tsawwassen. Residents also gathered a petition with thousands of signatures asking Ottawa to intervene.

The FCC granted a construction permit but a zoning permit was still required from Whatcom County, where planning staff had recommended approval.

Just days before a county public hearing on the proposal was scheduled to begin last fall,  the hearing examiner in a surprise move announced he had denied the application and canceled the hearing.

In his ruling, hearing examiner Michael Bobbink wrote that nowhere in the county’s zoning ordinance could he find any section to allow radio broadcast towers to exceed the height limits.

BBC Broadcasting appealed the decision, claiming said the radio towers were public utilities that provide “vital public services.”  Opponents however pointed out that almost all of the station’s listeners were in the Lower Mainland.

Council member Ken Mann told the Bellingham Herald prior to the Tuesday’s meeting that council could only overturn a hearing examiner’s ruling if the examiner made an error in law or fact.

“If we ever overturn the hearing examiner without any of those two factors, then we’d probably be very vulnerable in court,” Mann said.

With council riling in favour of the hearing examiner, BBC Broadcasting Inc has hit a dead-end as far as dealing with the county; however, the company still has the option of taking the matter to court.

Tsawwassen resident Jim Ronback said he expects an appeal to be filed under can expect an appeal to be submitted under the Land Use Petition Act.

Reber agreed, saying that “since the fat lady is still warming up in the wings, it ain’t over yet.”

According to BBC Broadcasting, the Point Roberts radio towers would be new utility infrastructure that would enhance trade and tourism opportunities for the community, while producing little or no adverse impacts. Point Roberts and Tsawwassen residents weren’t buying that, saying Sher-E-Punjab was nothing more than a “pirate radio station” trying to circumvent Canadian regulators by broadcasting into Canada from American soil.

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