Tower needed for Decatur

Published 11:42 am Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Would help eliminate first-responder communication issues

DECATUR TOWNSHIP — For roughly the past eight years, Decatur Township Fire Chief Gene Cox has been pushing for a new communication tower in Decatur Township to help with communication issues there and in other northern areas of Lawrence County.

A transmitter used by the Decatur Township Fire Department was previously moved from the Dean State Forest tower to the Cannons Creek tower, which Cox said was about 10 or 12 miles away, hurting communications.

“What we’ve run into out here is no good communication because of distance and our emergency pagers don’t always go off,” Cox said. “We had a structure fire a few weeks ago, and I was in the hospital and our assistant chief was in North Carolina. And none of our other guys even got an alert. That’s just one example of communication issues that we’ve had out here. Everyone should be able to communicate with 911. This is a public safety issue that’s not something the fire department should be responsible for.”

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Along with Cox, Lawrence County 911 Director Lonnie Best has been working on the effort.

“Right now, we’re trying to do everything we can,” Best said. “We’re trying to get a tower built to improve communication in Cox’s area.”

In the near future, Best is set to submit an “Obtaining a Special-Use Authorization with the Forest Service” application to the Wayne National Forest to be able to obtain a piece of land for a new tower, which will likely be across the road from the microwave tower that currently sits on County Road 41 North.

“I have all of the questions answered on the application to submit, but I need to attach a map and picture of the proposed area where we would build the tower,” Best said. “I’m confident that they’ll go with the plan for us to use a piece of land, but the hard part is getting the funding.”

Best added that sometime coming up, he plans to go out to the area with Cox and other officials to map it and get a photo to submit with the application.

The initial plan was to just get a new transmitter put onto the microwave tower that’s already in place. However, Best said that after speaking with a representative from Northern Towers, the transmitter would cost $2,500 a month, which prompted the effort toward just building a new tower.

Earlier this year, Best applied for a Local Government Innovation Fund (LGIF) Grant for $35,000, which he is hoping to hear back about sometime this month.

Best is currently working with two tower companies, ROHN and a local dealer, but said it is difficult to make anything happen without actually having the land yet.

Several factors may go into determining what the final cost of the tower will be, such as suitability of land, soil sampling, price of an outside building, electricity and possible security. The type of tower, either self-standing or guy wire, and the height of the tower will make a difference as well.

“I’d like to go with a self-standing tower as opposed to a guy wire,” Best said. “It’s more costly, but it’s also more reliable, takes up less space and is less work to maintain. But we’re going to do whatever we can to get some kind of a tower there to better the communication.”

Best said that the projected area of the tower would be somewhere between 160×160 feet and 250×250 feet, depending on what all needs to be done, and that the tower would likely be about 160 to 180 feet tall.

With a new tower in place, not only would communication improve for Decatur Township, but also in Elizabeth Township, the largest in the county, Washington Township and would likely push over into Jackson.

Best said his best guess at a final cost would be somewhere between $40,000 and $50,000, but that he is hoping grants he is applying for will cover it. The commissioners also offered about $15,000 to go toward the project if needed.

“The county commission is very much aware of the lack of reliable communication for our residents in the northern part of the county. We couldn’t be happier with how Mr. Gene Cox has spearheaded the issue and continues to keep us informed,” Lawrence County Commission President Bill Pratt said. “We stand ready to take the action necessary to implement a plan developed by Gene and 911 Director Lonnie Best.”