JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Medlock Bridge area residents breathed a sigh of relief when the Johns Creek City Council at a special called meeting June 30 rejected the plan for a 400-foot public safety radio net tower at Medlock Bridge Road and State Bridge Road.
Shakerag area residents also sighed with relief but not as deeply. Plan B was to erect a 195-foot tower in Shakerag at Fire Station 62 property owned by the city. But Shakerag residents complained that they had no notification of this plan. It would destroy property values and despoil the bucolic and rural nature of the area, they said.
Ever willing to please, the City Council agreed to try yet another plan that would put a 195-foot tower north of Abbotts Bridge Road and east of Medlock Bridge Road (Ga. 141) which would put the tower smack-dab in the middle of Technology Park Atlanta, the most commercial site in the city.
But this may only be a respite for Shakerag residents because there are technical problems with that site that must be ironed out. Otherwise the Shakerag site will be the only other viable option.
Shakerag gives the area slightly better coverage than the Medlock Bridge site between the old Warsaw Elementary School and Johns Creek High School.
That was the choice the City Council was prepared to make when it convened the special meeting June 30. However, they faced a packed house of more than 200 citizens who were opposed to the 400-foot tower at Medlock or the 195-foot tower in Shakerag.
The city has spent 2 years studying its plan to replace the aging analog public safety radio net. Having agreed to partner with Fulton County, the city would receive free equipment for one radio tower. If it was to be the 400-foot tower contracts had to go forward by July 30, hence the deadline.
The city will now place the new digital radio equipment on the existing tower at Morton Road and Jones Bridge Road. This will relieve the pressure of the June 30 deadline and give the city radio net as good coverage as with the analog with a bonus. The old system is failing about one day a month.
The new digital equipment will be much more reliable and end that worry. What the Morton-Jones Bridge tower cannot do is reach the Shakerag area with the signal penetration (ability to communicate through buildings) or the signal strength that is needed.
But ruling out the 400-foot Medlock tower buys the city more time to explore the Technology Park option. It will work fine to provide the signal penetration and strength to Shakerag, said the city’s consultant Mike McGannon of Engineering Consultants. The problem is “blow back” of the signal strength penetrating into Gwinnett County and affecting that county’s coverage.
McGannon said they had modeled wave propagation from a 500-foot tower in Tech Park “to push” the signal to Shakerag.
“We found that the signal would intrude on Gwinnett’s frequencies and violate [Federal Communications Commission] regulations. So we concluded that was not optimal,” McGannon said.
Mayor Mike Bodker said could it be possible to build a 195-foot tower at Tech Park that would not create “blow back” to Gwinnett and would not violate FCC regulations?
McGannon said it might be possible but it is difficult to know what the FCC will allow until the license proposal is before FCC officials.
Bodker put it the City Council – would they support abandoning the 400-foot tower, place new digital equipment on the existing Morton-Jones Bridge tower and take up to 6 months to study a Tech Park tower?
By abandoning the 400-foot tower, the city will now take on an additional $1.5 million cost for constructing a new tower plus $65,000 a year for maintenance. Fulton County would have borne those costs for the 400-foot tower.
Council voted 4-0 (Councilwoman Cori Davenport was absent) to do so. So now the city has six months to investigate whether it is possible to generate the signal strength from a 195-foot tower (any taller would create too much “bleed over” to Gwinnett) that would solve the Shakerag coverage and satisfy the FCC.
Bodker polled the council, and they agreed they would not sacrifice safety for public safety officers who depend on reliable radio transmission.
“I also am not willing to sacrifice safety,” he said.
So the city will go ahead with both options, a Shakerag tower and a Tech Park tower. If the FCC does not accept the Tech Park license request, then the city will go ahead with the Shakerag site.