Pending final review, final four towers to be constructed shortly

$15M public safety radio system to go live in December

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Barring any sudden administrative or environmental review snags, a countywide public safety radio system funded under the 2013 SPLOST is finally expected to go online at year's end.

The county awarded Motorola a contract in 2015 to construct a $15 million, eight-tower, 700/800 megahertz radio system that would provide deputies, firefighters and other public safety personnel coverage and connectivity throughout 95 percent of Bartow.

The system will replace Bartow's current very high frequency (VHF) radio system, which originally utilized just two towers near Vineyard Mountain and Peeples Valley Road. 

"We've got spots in the county where it's hard for a deputy even in a vehicle to communicate, or the fire service even in a vehicle to communicate, let alone when they're out of a vehicle with a portable or inside a building with a portable," said Bartow County Administrator Peter Olson.

While four of the planned towers have already been erected, another four — planned for 1212 Euharlee Road in Euharlee, 137 Boyd Mountain Road in Adairsville and 949 Peeples Valley Road and 1300 Joe Frank Harris Parkway in Cartersville — have been held up due to their proximity to locations either listed in or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

"Because we're getting a federal license, you need an FCC license, you have to coordinate with the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) so they have to determine if the erection of these towers has a negative impact on any historic properties," Olson said. 

"And anything that's older than 50 years old — so any old farmhouse, basically — is eligible to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places."

One would be amazed, Olson said, by how many sites in the county are eligible for just such a designation. One of the reasons the planned tower along Joe Frank Harris Parkway was held up, he said, was because of its "visual effect" on the CSX railroad. 

"I didn't understand how a railroad is negatively impacted by an antenna," he said. "But I'm not an archaeologist, I guess."

Eventually, the county did manage to convince the powers-that-be that there was no "reasonable alternative" for the tower sites. 

"Motorola looked at 60 or 70 alternative locations to find the right coverage, and we demonstrated that we had to put the towers on those locations and they had to be the height they had to be to provide the coverage that was needed," Olson said. 

Cue the "project mitigation plan" process. In exchange for giving Bartow the green light to build the remaining public safety radio towers, the SHPO required the county to — in Olson's words — "balance out the karma of the situation" and fund improvements to seven sites on the Bartow Black History Trail.

"It kept circulating back and forth between the state historic preservation division of the Department of Natural Resources and the FCC and they would tweak one another's language and send the draft back and it took 30 days every time they traded documents," Olson described the Kafkaesque paperwork procedure. 

Regardless, on June 20, Bartow — at long last — was given the go-ahead to complete the final four towers. Pending the plan passes one last environmental review, Olson said the system should be ready for use by the end of the year. 

"There's a 10-foot-by-26-foot building at each site and generators and fencing and all that stuff, but that has largely been completed at most of the sites," he said. "So it's just a matter of stacking steel."

Olson said it should only take a few weeks for each tower to be completed. He estimated the price of each remaining tower to be about $300,000 a piece, with the computer equipment at each site costing about $500,000.

"The $15 million is buying about $4.5 million worth of radios for the agencies, so that's something like 950 radios to go to the fire services and police and so forth," he said. "The other $11 million is the cost to build the eight sites and put the equipment in at 911 and at each site."

System testing, he said, could begin as early as fall. 

"There are a lot of circumstances where a deputy right now is out of communication with 911 when they leave their vehicles, for example, in remote areas or when they go into a building — we've been fortunate that we haven't had a life or death situation turn on a deputy in a tight situation where they can't call for help," Olson said. "This was a high priority project, clearly, and I know all public safety users are anxious to get it."