Police justify communications tower to Medford City Council

Neighbor says city should have informed the public of the 130-foot tower before erecting it

MEDFORD — A controversial tower that has cast an unwelcome shadow over an east Medford neighborhood will be a vital public safety communication link, Medford police chief Randy Schoen told the City Council Thursday.

Schoen said the 130-foot tower on Capital Hill, within 53 feet of homes on Valley View Drive and Ridge Way, will offer sufficient power to cast a wide communication net over Medford.

"It allows us to penetrate buildings with a strong signal," Schoen said. "I don't think any officers or firefighters should have to worry about getting heard or not."

The tower was built without prior knowledge of local residents, who argue that an agency entrusted with enforcing the law hasn't followed city rules by informing the public in advance.

"We certainly regret the visual impacts," Schoen said.

Schoen made his pitch to City Council members a week in advance of a public hearing on the issue scheduled at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 17, at City Hall.

The new tower replaces a 60-foot tower to the south on the same 9-acre property owned by the Medford Water Commission and is visible to residents for a mile around it. The old tower has served as the city's primary communications transmission center since 1988.

Buzz Thielemann, a neighbor who has protested the tower, said he realizes there is a need for a strong radio network, but he said the police already have redundant systems in place that have worked well.

The neighbors aren't arguing about the need for a good communication system, but dispute erecting the antenna without going through a public process.

"The city has a set of rules and to say the police don't have to follow the rules is absurd," he said. "You lead by example."

He said the tower will hurt property values in the area, already hard-hit by the recession.

Thielemann said Schoen's presentation gave him a good overview of the communication network the police rely on, but doesn't change the fact that the tower shouldn't have been erected in the first place.

"Take down that tower and go through the rules," he said.

Schoen said the police, working with the water commission, chose the location for the tower because it provides one of the best communication vantage points in Medford.

Another, higher location on the water commission land was considered but the soil was so bad that 800 cubic yards would have had to be removed and replaced with other compacted soil that would have been imported.

He said the system is designed to provide the best communication link to the weakest link in the system — the 5-watt radios the officers use. The tower transmits at 100 watts, he said.

The water commission property is double fenced, making the tower less susceptible to sabotage, he said.

Other locations considered, such as Roxy Ann, are limited to 25 watts to adhere to Federal Communications Commission rules.

Carpenter Hill in southeast Medford is another possible location, but the city would have to pay $500,000 or more to purchase the property, he said.

Schoen said several towers could be built at lower elevations to provide the coverage, but the cost would also go up.

City Councilman Chris Corcoran suggested building a temporary tower on a different part of the water commission property.

The water commission plans to expand its reservoirs from about 12 million gallons to 20 million gallons in the next 10 to 20 years. Once the commission's expansion plans begin, the city could take down the tower.

Schoen said there are about 60 days worth of work ahead to make the tower operational, including construction of an 8-foot by 14-foot building at the base.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or e-mail dmann@mailtribune.com.

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