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Tsawwassen residents rally against crossborder radio tower
Residents in Tsawwassen are raising a ruckus to show solidarity with people in Point Roberts opposing a 150-foot tall five-tower AM radio array that will broadcast Punjabi programming to Lower Mainland residents.
Whatcom county accepted an application month from KRPI radio for a conditional use permit to install the powerful 50,000-watt signal just 330 metres from the Canadian border.
An online petition currently calling on the FCC to reject the “Pirate Border Blaster” has received close to 350 signatures since Aug. 14.
Jim Ronback of Beach Grove says that the application process does not take into account the residents living on the Canadian side of the border. He said technical engineering studies from the application ignore Tsawwassen altogether, identifying the closest population centre as being Ladner.
“I treat this as what they call a border blaster,” he said, referring to the Mexican radio stations that proliferated across the US border between the 1940s and 1970s, which often interfered with domestic radio stations.
Tsawwassen resident Greg Edwards said he’s canvassed most of the neighbourhoods immediately south of the border to get petition signatures and urge people to write to local politicians. He is currently trying to get more residents to help with going door-to-door.
KRPI radio is relocating from Ferndale, Washington, after apparently overstaying its welcome with residents there. Originally a Christian music station, the format was changed to Punjabi in 1994 and began broadcasting at 50 kilowatts in 2004.
The increase in signal strength upset Ferndale residents. Dozens of public comments made during a public meeting in Ferndale on Sept. 27, 2005 included complaints of daily interference through personal computers, telephones, and blanket interference through the entire AM frequency. Some said they couldn’t even get Bellingham radio stations and there was static on every station of their car radio. Others reported interference on walkie-talkies at work while one amateur radio operator said he received RF burns on both hands while trying to cut an antenna.
Andrew Skotdal, an engineering consultant for KRPI, said the radio station will have a qualified engineer dedicated to resolving interference issues for both U.S. and Canadian residents. He also pointed to other 50 kilowatt towers in places like Birch Bay and Richmond which operate without significant interference complaints.
An environmental review concluded the radio tower would have no negative effects to endangered or threatened species or pose a risk to birds. The design conforms to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommendations.
Skotdal said every radio station within the “border zone” defined by international treaty has to go through intergovernmental coordination before construction and the proposed towers were reviewed and approved by the CRTC.
Nor is KRPI leaving Ferndale because of local complaints, explained Skotdal.
“A large factor is that they cannot improve their coverage from that location due to their proximity to the U.S. government international monitoring station, which is protected,” he said.
Ham operators in Point Roberts have urged Whatcom County to reject the application on the grounds it could interfere with emergency communication services.
“If we have a bad earthquake the only way we’ll have communication is with ham radio,” said Kelly Kiniski, adding he can contact the Blaine Police or Whatcom County Auxiliary Communication Service.
“We’re sort of the lost stepchild up here. We’re not Canada and we’re sort of the United States but they forget about us.”
The towers are expected to primarily interfere with high frequency communications but Kiniski is concerned it could bleed into other frequencies as well.
Although the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) granted a construction permit last year for the radio station, a conditional use permit is still required from Whatcom County. A public hearing on the permit is not expected to happen until October.
Click here to sign the online “Pirate Border Blaster” petition.