IW supervisors receive update on new 911 towers

Published 10:52 am Saturday, December 3, 2016

Construction of Isle of Wight County’s five new 911 radio towers may be complete as early as December of next year, according to D. Terry Hall, the director of the York-Poquoson-Williamsburg Regional 911 Emergency Communications Center. He has been working closely with Isle of Wight’s Board of Supervisors to help them update the county’s aging emergency response infrastructure. Hall presented an update on the towers during the board’s work session on Thursday evening.

The current construction plans specify 400-foot towers at the Isle of Wight Fairgrounds and at the old landfill on Woody Way, 300-foot towers at Nike Park near Smithfield and Holly Run Drive near Carrsville, and one 80-foot tower four to six feet from the Isle of Wight County Courthouse building.

According to Hall, all structures will be lattice towers, as opposed to guide wire, to provide a stronger signal and allow the county to achieve more coverage with fewer towers. The towers will transmit at 800 MHz, a standard public safety frequency, but will also have the ability to mount additional equipment from commercial lessees, which will transmit on broadband or cellular frequencies.

The first step in the construction process, which is to conduct soil tests at the site of each proposed tower’s foundation, has already been completed.

“We really don’t have normal soil anywhere in Virginia, so anywhere we’re putting [towers] in, we’re going to have to beef them up,” Hall said, explaining that each tower will likely need a foundation 40 to 50 feet deep made of concrete rebar.

The next step in the approval process is to obtain permits from the Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Communications Commission, the State Historic Preservation Office, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Tribal Historic Preservation Ordinance, and the National Park Service. Hall said that if any one agency does not approve a permit, the process will stop, pending a 90-day appeal process.

Hall added that other steps in the approval process, in addition to obtaining the necessary permits, include conducting drainage surveys and utilities evaluations, drafting foundation and equipment shelter designs, and deciding on a final layout.

Once the towers are in place and operational, the county will have the opportunity to bring in revenue by leasing space on each tower to cellular companies. According to Hall, each tower will come equipped with multiple electrical meters, only one of which will be active at the start, to allow cellular and broadband companies to easily connect their own equipment to each tower without having to dig into the ground. The current estimated revenue the county could bring in from the lease of each tower stands at $15,000 per tower per vendor.

Isle of Wight County will also construct a new 911 dispatch center within the existing emergency services facility to connect with the new towers. According to Hall, the current dispatch center will continue to operate during the construction of the towers and new facility, and there will be no loss of service during the switch to the new system. The county has applied for a $150-175,000 grant to offset the estimated $250,000 cost of switching to the new system.

The Board of Supervisors awarded Motorola the contract to construct the towers and update the county’s 911 dispatch equipment in mid-2016. In addition to Hall, members of the county’s Motorola team who were present at Thursday’s work session included Emergency Management Coordinator Andrea Stallings Clontz, Mike Bouchard and Mike McGannon.