Washington eco-saboteurs topple towers

Monkey-wrenching of radio station doesn't last

  • Two KRKO radio towers, pushed down by vandals last fall near Snohomish, Washington.

    Michael O'Leary/The Everett Herald
  • A banner, signed "ELF," was left near the towers.

    Michael O'Leary/The Everett Herald
  • Lee Bennett, president of Citizens to Preserve the Upper Snohomish River Valley, has led the 10-year legal battle against the radio towers (in the background) and says, "We're not done yet."

    M.L. Lyke
 

Fall is usually a tranquil season in this rural suburb north of Seattle, where small farms grow flowers, nursery trees and other niche crops along the meandering Snohomish River. At harvest time, U-pick pumpkins swell on the vine, sunflowers bow their heavy heads and enterprising farmers cut cornfield mazes, urging tourists to "Come get lost."

That bucolic spell was broken last year on Sept. 4 around 3 a.m., when one or more people sneaked up to a 40-acre site near the river, climbed a fence, fired up a large excavator that was equipped with a steel claw and aimed it at the dominant architecture: four giant broadcasting towers for KRKO, a sports-talk radio station.

Neighbors heard the grinding of metal on metal. One grabbed a shotgun and chased a fleeing man, who vanished into the darkness. Another reported seeing three people fleeing. News helicopters awoke more locals, and a flurry of excited phone calls spread the word that the main tower -- 349 feet tall -- and an adjacent 199-footer had been knocked down.

Near the crumpled steel latticework, someone left a banner with a hand-drawn heart, the scrawled words: "Wassup? Sno. Cty.?" and the signature "ELF" -- acronym for the radical Earth Liberation Front.

Barbara Bailey at first thought the toppling was some kind of miracle. Her fifth-generation 400-acre farm is just across the river from the site, and she had opposed the construction of the towers. But when she learned it was sabotage, her feelings were complicated. She thought: "It was not right. It was a crime ... but still it was a good feeling. After all the writing letters, lobbying politicians, raising money to pay lawyers, it was like somebody had decided the system wasn't working, and took matters in their own hands."

The crime remains unsolved. Lee Bennett, president of Citizens to Preserve the Upper Snohomish River Valley, says he has no clue who was behind the pre-dawn raid. "It had to be someone who knew the machine was here, how to operate it, and how to safely punch an electrified tower over without being electrocuted."

Bennett's group has waged a legal battle against the towers for a decade, arguing that they pose a threat to wildlife, scenery and human health.

But KRKO's owners aren't backing down. The Skotdal family, which made its fortune in real estate development and does its radio business as S-R Broadcasting, began rebuilding the two damaged towers in August. They expect KRKO to be broadcasting its powerful 50,000-watt signal on 1380 AM once again by January 2011. They are also preparing the site for new towers for a proposed second 50,000-watt station, 1520 AM.

"You couldn't put (the towers) in a worse possible place -- right between two beautiful county parks," says Bob Heirman, who spent decades helping restore those parks, one of which is named after him. "It's like putting a rendering plant next to your local high school."

The continuing conflict seems to highlight two notorious Northwestern character traits -- a strong green streak and a long stubborn streak. And the lack of arrests shows the of difficulty of catching the monkey-wrenchers who keep popping up in the region.

High Country News Classifieds
  • COMMUNITY OUTREACH MANAGER
    High Country News (HCN) is looking for a Community Outreach Manager to reach and forge new relationships with individuals and groups who represent communities historically...
  • NEW BOOK:
    True Wildlife Tales From Boy to Man. Finding my voice to save wildlife in the Apache spirit. 365+ vivid colorful pictures. Buy on Amazon/John Wachholz
  • CHIEF OPERATIONS OFFICER
    with Rural Community Assistance Corporation. Apply here: https://www.marcumllp.com/executive-search/chief-operations-officer-rcac
  • CLIMATE JUSTICE FELLOW
    High Country News, an award-winning magazine covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks applicants for a climate justice fellowship. The fellowship...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Wild Rockies Field Institute is seeking a visionary Executive Director to lead the organization in Missoula, Montana. Individuals with a proven track record in...
  • LAND AND WATER CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    The Land and Water Conservation Director is a full-time salaried position with the Mountain Area Land Trust in Evergreen, CO. The successful candidate will have...
  • ARIZONA PROGRAM MANAGER
    National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the nation's oldest and largest national parks nonprofit advocacy organization seeks an Arizona Program Manager. The Arizona Program Manager works...
  • CROWN OF THE CONTINENT COMMUNITY CONSERVATION SPECIALIST
    THE WILDERNESS SOCIETY is seeking a Community Conservation Specialist, for the Crown of the Continent DEPARTMENT: Conservation CLASSIFICATION: Grade 6 Specialist/Representative (Low of $54K) REPORTS...
  • ASSISTANT FARM DIRECTOR
    About The Organization Building community through fresh vegetables is at the heart of the Sisters-based non-profit, Seed to Table Oregon. Based on a four-acre diversified...
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, Hike the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • DYNAMIC EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    VARD is seeking an Executive Director to lead a small legal & planning staff dedicated to the health and sustainability of Teton Valley Idaho and...
  • WATER PROJECT MANAGER, UPPER SAN PEDRO (ARIZONA)
    Based in Tucson or Sierra Vista, AZ., the Upper San Pedro Project Manager develops, manages, and advances freshwater conservation programs, plans, and methods focusing on...
  • CAMPAIGNS DIRECTOR
    Southeast Alaska Conservation is hiring. Visit https://www.seacc.org/about/hiring for info. 907-586-6942 [email protected]
  • FINANCE & GRANTS MANAGER
    The Blackfoot Challenge, located in Ovando, MT, seeks a self-motivated, detail-oriented individual to conduct bookkeeping, financial analysis and reporting, and grant oversight and management. Competitive...
  • WADE LAKE CABINS, CAMERON MT
    A once in a lifetime opportunity to live and run a business on the shore of one of the most beautiful lakes in SW Montana....
  • CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, BOOKS, CULTURE AND COMMENTARY (PART-TIME, CONTRACT)
    High Country News is seeking a Contributing Editor for Books, Culture and Commentary to assign and edit inquisitive, inspiring, and thought-provoking content for HCN in...
  • STATEWIDE COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    ABOUT US Better Wyoming is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization that educates, organizes, and mobilizes Wyoming residents on behalf of statewide change. Learn more at...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    TwispWorks is a 501(c)3 that promotes economic and cultural vitality in the mountainous Methow Valley, the eastern gateway to North Cascades National Park in Washington...
  • CLEAN ENERGY ADVOCATE OR DIRECTOR
    Location: Helena, Montana Type: Permanent, full time after 1-year probationary period. Reports to: Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs. Travel: Some overnight travel, both in-state...
  • PROFESSIONAL GIS SERVICES
    Custom Geospatial Solutions is available for all of your GIS needs. Affordable, flexible and accurate data visualization and analysis for any sized project.