Towers lauded by emergency providers

Communication towers standing 400 feet and 480 feet tall, respectively, in Bethany Beach and Williamsville could be up by this fall and operational by early next year. State consultants said at an Ocean View public workshop last week that the towers will allow emergency responders to use radios inside places such as schools and churches, where they currently do not have service, allowing for more efficient and safer response.

“I don’t see any negatives,” said Jeff Martin, a consultant and engineer spearheading the project. “(The towers) are going to provide a lot better coverage and (allow responders) to be able to respond a lot more efficiently.”

The towers will be built at two locations: on county land off Route 54, just east of Johnson Road, and at the South Coastal treatment plant, off Muddy Neck Road. They will be two in a network of 32 communication towers statewide.

Officials said last week that they chose the Williamsville site because of its location between Fenwick Island and Selbyville. The 500-foot tower there will serve schools, churches and other critical buildings in both towns and their surrounding areas.

Its 400-foot counterpart on Muddy Neck should provide radio coverage in similar buildings in Ocean View, Millville, Bethany and all outlying areas.

With the new towers, if police officers are standing in a home and need assistance, for instance, they could use radios instead of telephones to more quickly call for backup. Others outside a burning building could contact firemen inside by radio to warn them of worsening conditions, allowing for early evacuation to potentially avert injury.

Most such towers are built, state officials said last week, between 275 feet and 500 feet tall, depending on how tall the antennas need to sit to provide coverage to nearby critical buildings.

Joseph Baker, a longtime Williamsville resident who lives and owns a business only feet from the proposed Williamsville tower, said he is worried that the tower, which utilizes microwave radio waves to send and receive signal, will hurt his business. Officials said radiation emitted from the towers will not affect people or animals on the ground.

“The only thing that bothers me is it is obnoxious-looking,” said Baker, owner of the 17-year-old Heavenly Hound Hotel, a dog and cat kennel off Route 54. “My biggest fear is someone is going to think it’s going to have an affect on their pet staying there.”

Officials admitted last week that residents and others driving by will notice the tower initially. They added, though, that it will effectively disappear after people grow accustomed to its presence.

Baker didn’t buy the argument.

Despite some hesitation, though, most attending the April 4 workshop on the proposed towers were favorable about the plan to provide better coverage. Only about a dozen local residents attended. Because of the modest turnout, state officials and consultants did not even make the scheduled formal presentation on the plan, instead opting to talk one-on-one with concerned residents for the entire time.

Emergency responders in attendance lauded state officials for proactively seeking to provide better service. Pfc. Justin Norman, an Ocean View police officer and assistant chief at the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company, said extended coverage will close gaps in service that have previously been a nuisance.

“If you need additional resources, you’ve got to get on a cell phone,” Norman said of the current situation. “I’ve had to get on a land line. As far as in-building coverage, we walk in this building (Lord Baltimore Elementary School) and lose service. In-building coverage is needed. This is going to help BBFC tremendously.”

Glenn Johnson, assistant chief at the Roxana Volunteer Fire Company, called the extended coverage a “great asset.”

“We’ve got an area down Route 54 that we lose coverage inside buildings and even outside,” he said.