Police tower's future remains undecided

An unfinished communications tower that has raised the ire of a neighborhood will stay unfinished until the city irons out its differences with opponents.

"We're really waiting to see what the neighborhood wants us to do," said Medford Police Chief Randy Schoen. "We're just in a holding pattern."

The 130-foot tower, which will be 140 feet if all the antenna gear is mounted on it, sits on Capital Hill in east Medford.

The tower replaces a 60-foot tower to the south on the same property, owned by the Medford Water Commission. Public safety officials have said the tower is needed to fill in gaps in their communications system, especially within large buildings such as the Rogue Valley Mall.

Neighbors complained they didn't receive any warning from the city before the tower was installed in December.

The city apologized, then allowed the residents to appeal the decision to build the tower to the City Council. Last week, the council reaffirmed the city is allowed to build a public utilities tower for use by police and fire departments without public notification.

In the meantime, neighbors have appealed to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals.

The city cleared up a violation with the Federal Communications Commission by not registering the tower in a timely fashion.

Earlier information from the Federal Aviation Administration that Medford police didn't notify the agency that the tower would be moved from its approved location appears to be incorrect.

The city did notify the FAA, and Robert van Haastert, supervisor with the FAA's Obstruction Evaluation Group, sent Medford police an e-mail on Dec. 17 authorizing them to continue construction even though the tower location had been moved 180 feet.

Dave Wood, whose property is just 53 feet from the tower, expressed frustration about the process, and about the City Council's decision to reaffirm that the city followed correct procedure in approving the tower without alerting the public.

"It's up to the city because they've ruled they can do anything they want," he said. "You can't demand anything."

Wood said he personally would prefer the tower was taken down and moved to another hill, but even that idea is problematic.

"Where are they going to move it and who are they going to impact next?" he said.

Wood also said he can see the city's point that the Capital Hill area would be the best site economically for the city since the land is owned by the Medford Water Commission.

He disputed the claim that it would cost $180,000 to move the tower.

"It's just an inflated number to get the council members thinking this is too much money," he said.

Schoen remained confident something could be worked out with neighbors.

"I think we're all hopeful that we can come up with something that is a win-win for everybody," he said.

He said only the lower portions of the tower could be reused because the structure is designed for a specific height and to hold up a specific weight of equipment. He said a new location would require new engineering.

Schoen said he doesn't want city officials to be surprised by the final cost, so he estimated on the high side at $180,000 to be safe.

The tower would provide the primary communications link to patrol officers and fire crews in Medford. It would also serve as a backup communication system in case fiber optic lines are cut.

If the tower is approved, or relocated, Schoen said it would have three microwave dishes on top that would act as a backup relaying signals to City Hall, a tower on Roxy Ann and to the 9-1-1 dispatch center at the airport.

He said the microwave dishes will provide a backup communications system in case the fiber optic lines get cut.

When the Deer Ridge fire broke out below Roxy Ann in 2009, the fiber optics line was cut, requiring routing onto another fiber optics line, Schoen said.

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

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