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Roswell defers vote on 2 radio towers


Resident outcry prompts questions



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Residents of Twelvestones, on Fouts Road in Roswell, watch a balloon rise to 350 feet just outside their neighborhood entrance. Jonathan Copsey.
August 14, 2013
ROSWELL, Ga. Roswell residents of Fouts and Cox roads turned out at the City Council meeting Aug. 12 to complain about the 400-foot radio towers proposed to be built beside their homes.

Residents of the Twelvestones neighborhood on Fouts Road uttered words like "outrageous" or "unacceptable" when they saw a balloon test a few days earlier, Aug. 9, at the proposed Fouts Road site, across the street from their main entrance.

A balloon test raises a large balloon in the air so residents and officials can get a visual estimate on height. The Fouts Road tower is estimated to be between 350 and 400 feet tall.

"It's not a case of 'not in my backyard,'" said resident Heather Pendery. "I don't want it in anybody's backyard."

Instead, she and her neighbors want Roswell to find a site in a more commercial or industrial setting. Not across from their neighborhood.

They wore the same color red they are seeing over the site selection.

Four hundred feet is a tall measurement. The Statue of Liberty stands at about 300 feet tall. That's a large size for a statue, yet still 100 feet shorter than the radio tower proposed to be built across from Twelvestones.

The balloon test showed that the tower would be visible from just about every home in the 66-home neighborhood. The brand-new $100,000 swimming pool sits nearly underneath the tower.

"There have to be other options out there," said resident Jill Fagalde.

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Residents of Twelvestones, on Fouts Road in Roswell, watch a balloon rise to 350 feet just outside their neighborhood entrance.
The towers are part of an eight-tower system to be set up as part of a new radio net to allow public safety personnel to radio each other. While the system has been moving forward since the beginning of the year, for many residents, their first learning of it was when they realized a tower would be beside their homes.

The radio system is North Fulton's break with Fulton County over emergency radio services. The county provides such radio service today, however the system is dangerously obsolete and incompatible with every surrounding government except Clayton County, which is in the process of upgrading its own system.

The city of Atlanta already has its own system, separate from the county.

Roswell Police Chief Rusty Grant said the system has empty spots in the area that are not covered and the system has failed eight times in the past 11 months. During these times, emergency workers cannot speak with each other except by using their own cellphones. One such down time was during a SWAT operation.

"During those times, the citizens were unprotected," Grant said. "It is not a dependable system."

Many of the uncovered areas in the current system are in Milton, Johns Creek and along the Chattahoochee River in Roswell.

Fulton's lack of necessity coupled with the gaps in coverage in North Fulton spurred the northern cities of Sandy Springs, Roswell, Alpharetta, Milton and Johns Creek to pursue their own system under their own control. Johns Creek pulled out of the venture when it came time for council approval from the cities in January of this year. This month, the county announced it was creating its own system.

It is uncertain how the county's system would fit with North Fulton's. It could cover the rest of the county south of North Fulton or it could completely duplicate.

North Fulton's system will cost about $16 million to build, with the cost divided amongst the four cities based on number of radios used by public safety departments and by total size of the city.

The radio towers are proposed to be scattered throughout North Fulton, from I-285 northward. Proposed sites are on Fouts Road, Cox Road (Fire Station 6) and the public works department on Hembree Road in Roswell; near Birmingham Park in Milton; Jones Bridge Road in Johns Creek; and Morgan Falls in Sandy Springs, the Riverwood building in Cobb County and Atlanta Fire Station 21 in Atlanta.

Roswell Mayor Jere Wood pulled no punches in accusing the county of refusing to work with North Fulton's cities and forcing the issue.

"It takes two people to negotiate," he said. "Fulton County is not at the table. We waited for several years for Fulton County to make a decision and we got nowhere."

He said the cities in Fulton County have paid service fees to the county for the past five years to their system yet no upgrades or improvements have been made.

Councilmember Nancy Diamond said it was "irresponsible" to rely on the county for the safety of first responders.

"I will not put our fate in the hands of Fulton County," she said.

Councilmember Betty Price questioned that, if Milton County were to happen, how would North Fulton having its own system help?

"There's virtually no change whatsoever [in public safety coverage]," said John Byrd, with Motorola. "It's absolutely an advantage to you. You have your own system."

If Milton County occurred otherwise, Byrd said the cities of North Fulton would have to buy a new system and dismantle the old system, which would be a "very nasty divorce."

Despite the positives of such a system, questions were raised about the necessity of 400-foot-tall towers beside homes.

Representatives of Motorola, the supplier, and Commdex, the project manager, said the equipment alone at each tower would cost about $600,000, which is a commanding reason why the cities chose to go with the fewest sites possible with large towers. The height is required so the towers can communicate with each other without obstruction.

Price questioned why the cities were pushing ahead so quickly on site selection. She and many of the residents in attendance urged to defer any decision on sites to explore alternatives.

The Hembree Road site, on the public works property, was approved, with the Cox and Fouts Road sites deferred until the Sept. 11 meeting.

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