HANSON — Selectmen are considering a joint proposal by the Whitman Amateur Radio Club (WARC) and Hanson Operations Center to use the antenna at the former Plymouth County Hospital property as an emergency repeater antenna.
That antenna tower, located between the water tower and food pantry building, was last used about three years ago, and still holds unused antennas from police and sheriff’s departments, BCI, and hospital communications.
The proposal, drafted by Ham radio operator Mark Vess of 303 High St., will be forwarded to town counsel for review and possible basis for a contract with the town.
“We have a vague idea that we’d like to try [the unused antennas] out and see if they’re useable just the way they are,” he said.
Vess’ proposal assured selectmen that the radio frequency output is less than 30 watts and emergency communications transmit at less than 100 watts for only a few minutes a week for testing purposes. Cell towers, by contrast, cluster antennas transmitting “a combined power of many hundreds of watts” around the clock every day.
“It is, by design, for emergency communications only,” Vess said of the proposal.
The project group plans to have all necessary safety repairs done by a licensed and insured climber, clean the base area, add a “garden shed-sized” metal building at the base and enclose the area within a locked security fence with video surveillance added at some point.
Currently there is no fence around the base.
Kevin Dikes, town Emergency Operations Center radio operator noted the antenna was needed to ensure redundant communications in the event an emergency caused loss of cell phone or public safety radio service.
“Our current site — or what was our current site — in Whitman came up with some interference issues actually caused by cellular antennas,” said WARC member Jeff Lehmann, 52 Forest Trail, maintains radio and repeater systems in Whitman, Bridgewater, Marshfield, Dartmouth and other area locations. “We’re looking for an alternative location to provide better communications for everyone.”
Vess added that the PCH antenna has not only “stood the test of time,” but that it is much higher than any repeater location available in the area so far.
“It gets out to all the communities,” Vess said. “It’s all about reliability of communications. It’s a public safety issue.”
Selectman Bill Scott, while supportive of the proposal, asked if the proposal took into consideration past resident objections to past cell tower proposals on High Street.
“I can remember a time in the past when no one on High Street wanted anything up there,” Scott said.
Vess explained that the installation being proposed is far smaller than any cellular antenna, without the radiation. Other WARC members stressed the emergency antenna is not a business aimed at making money in a residential area and will make minimal changes to what is there.
“What we’re proposing is a toothpick compared to a sailboat sail,” Vess said. “They are two very different entities that cannot be compared.”
Selectman Jim McGahan was impressed that the proposal took potential land use questions into consideration.
“We don’t know what we’re going to do with the land,” he said, asking what might happen if the land was sold.
Vess said that, in that event, “We’ll be back here in the future looking for space on the water tower.”
Selectmen Chairman Bruce Young wondered if it might not be easier and lest costly to the WARC and EOC to just place the antenna on the water tower now.
“We initially saw the [antenna] tower as a way to accomplish our goals with a limited intrusion in the town’s infrastructure,” Vess said. “To utilize the water tower, that’s a new one. You got us on that one.”
He said they are happy with their current proposal, but if Selectmen feel the proposal has enough weight regarding redundant communication with a change of location to the water tower, they were willing.
In the meantime, the antenna tower is there and Vess said it would be a “hoot” to place their antenna on one of the tallest towers in the area.
At the very least, he added, if they lose use of the land to a sale of the property, they will have made the antenna safer.
“I think what these guys are doing is great, because we need volunteers like this in an emergency situation,” Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett of Bay State Circle said of the antenna tower proposal.