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Fight over Point Roberts radio tower continues in court

Few things could be more alarming during a personal phone call than suddenly being interrupted by the sound of yelling on a police radio.

It has happened in the past because radio waves, if they’re strong enough, can overpower home-based communications.

The little-understood phenomenon, known as blanket interference, is the reason a group of Canadians and Americans oppose plans for five, 50,000-watt radio towers to be built in Point Roberts.

The powerful transmitters would be located about 400 yards from Tsawwassen and its 23,000 residents — but opponents have succeeded in stalling the project for the time being.

Tsawwassen resident Jim Ronback said phones, radios, home stereos and TVs would be affected if the plan goes ahead.

“You would hear the radio station while talking on the phone,” said Ronback, an electrical engineer who used industry standards to measure the blanketing effect.

“Cordless phones are the most susceptible,” said Ronback, a member of the Cross Border Coalition to Stop the Radio Towers.

KRPI AM 1550 is based in Ferndale and has South Asian listeners in metro Vancouver.

KRPI is owned by a U.S. company, BBC Broadcasting Inc., which wants to relocate its transmitters from Ferndale to the Point Roberts peninsula in the U.S. just south of Tsawwassen. BBC Broadcasting is not related to the British network with a similar name.

It has received preliminary approval in the U.S., but the station’s plans have hit a snag.

The proposal was rejected by Whatcom County officials, who ruled the proposed five 150-foot-high towers were three times over existing limits.

The decision has been appealed in Skagit County Superior Court, a process that is expected to take several months.

Andrew Skotdal, an American-based consultant for the project, admitted some phones, radios and home stereo systems will be affected if the project goes ahead.

“The same argument is made every time an AM station is constructed. The reason it doesn’t stick is that the problems can be rectified,” he said.

Filters can be attached to phones or wrapped over speaker wires attached to home stereo systems, he said.

“It’s a $50 fix, which the station will pay for,” he said, adding that he believes the number of complaints would be fewer than 100.

Ferndale Mayor Gary Jensen said the station’s presence has been a mixed bag during the past dozen years for the city.

The signals initially drowned out phones, radios and even a public concert.

Jensen said an amateur music festival was “almost ruined” a few years back. He said a young violinist was in the middle of performing a piece when “Boom! ... here comes Punjabi chanting over the public address system,” he said.

Jensen said the company provided free filters, but you had to drive to the station and install them yourself.

In the meantime, members of the coalition continue to rack up hefty legal bills, which will reach about $200,000 US. The coalition’s website is at notowers.webs.com.

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