Environmental radicals: We toppled radio towers

Two radio towers in the Snohomish River Valley were toppled early Friday morning by intruders who used a piece of heavy equipment on the site. Local residents have fought the towers, operated by sports-radio station KRKO.

Radical environmentalists are claiming responsibility for toppling two radio-transmission towers south of Snohomish early Friday, but the general manager of Everett’s KRKO 1380 says his family will rebuild the damaged towers and accelerate plans to construct additional towers.

A banner attached to a fence surrounding the towers indicated that the early-morning attack was the work of the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), a loosely organized group of clandestine cells that seeks to inflict economic damage on facilities and projects it considers environmentally damaging.

The transmission towers for the AM station have been the subject of a nine-year legal battle and were opposed by some local residents because of health concerns, the impact on wildlife and aesthetics, and impaired views of the river valley and surrounding mountains.

Andy Skotdal, general manager of the family-owned sports-radio station, isn’t convinced ELF is responsible, even though the group’s North American press office in Washington, D.C., issued a news release and posted an item on its national Web site Friday saying it was.

He suspects disgruntled locals who have long opposed the siting of the towers on 40 acres of farmland may have taken matters into their own hands after losing a key ruling in King County Superior Court a few weeks ago.

“My suspicion is, it’s somebody local,” Skotdal, whose family has owned the station for 20 years, said by phone Friday as he watched dozens of sheriff’s detectives and FBI agents comb the property for evidence. “It could be somebody painting ELF on a banner to throw off suspicion.”

Jason Crawford, an ELF press officer, acknowledged the D.C. office has had “no communication from the individuals involved in this action.” But, he said, “there are more factors that lead us to believe this is a legitimate ELF action than to believe otherwise.”

He said ELF supports the toppling of the towers because “they are not just something the locals consider an eyesore and a nuisance but are something that poses a potential threat to human health and wildlife.”

Around 3 a.m. Friday, a neighbor living near the transmission towers in the 13400 block of Short School Road called 911 to report that someone was trying to knock the towers over, said Snohomish County sheriff’s spokeswoman Rebecca Hover.

The vandals broke through a chain-link fence that’s topped with razor wire to steal a track loader, a piece of heavy equipment that was then used to ram the towers to the ground, Skotdal said.

Officers found the station’s main tower, a 349-foot-tall structure, lying on the ground. A smaller, 199-foot-tall tower was also toppled and found nearby. Two other towers weren’t damaged.

An official damage estimate wasn’t available, but Skotdal figures it will cost “a couple million dollars” to replace the towers.

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“I don’t look at this like it’s some devastating thing. I look at it as something we can fix,” he said. “So much has gone on in the last nine years that this is just another event that doesn’t faze me.”

The investigation is being headed by the Seattle field office of the FBI because the incident is possibly an act of domestic terrorism, said Special Agent Marty Prewett.

“With the ELF banner and ELF taking credit for it, ELF is certainly a suspect, but we’ll see where the evidence leads us,” he said.

Between 1996 and 2001, 18 people were indicted on charges they were involved in the militant underground group that claimed it carried out more than a dozen acts of arson and sabotage in the Western United States, causing tens of millions of dollars in damage to targets that included a slaughterhouse, timber-company headquarters and a ski lodge in Vail, Colo.

In 2001, ELF claimed responsibility for a fire that destroyed the University of Washington’s Center for Urban Horticulture. Last year, three women were sentenced to prison for their roles in the arson.

Also last year, a banner was left behind at a luxury development near Maltby that indicated ELF was responsible for fires that destroyed three million-dollar homes and damaged a fourth.

On Friday, KRKO never went off the air because it was able to switch to backup transmission equipment, Skotdal said. But it’s broadcast coverage area — which usually stretches from South Seattle to the Canadian border — was reduced by 90 percent, he said.

The Skotdal family plans to expand its operations after beating out 12 other applicants for its second permit from the Federal Communications Commission to transmit on 1520 AM. The family plans to build its second, 50,000-watt station on the tower site by next summer, Skotdal said.

Lee Bennett, president of Citizens to Preserve the Upper Snohomish River Valley, said since the Skotdals began transmitting from the Short School Road site in February, area residents have dealt with radio interference that has interrupted phone service, computers and TVs.

The radio station’s sports programs were blasted over the public-address system of a nearby church, and the radio waves have even caused garage doors and a couple of automatic car windows to randomly open, he said.

Though Bennett and his neighbors long have fought the radio-transmission towers — and received notices from the county last week that their property-tax assessments would be reduced because of them — he disapproves of ELF’s actions.

“I think this is the completely wrong thing to do,” Bennett said. “I don’t think the towers should be there, but this is not the way they should come out.”

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2009809764_radiotowers05m.html

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