Highlands Ranch, CO, Tower touted as boost to safety, Highlands Ranch Herald

Highlands Ranch plan would aid first responders, by Christy Steadman, Posted 7/23/14

Plans are in the works for a new 180-foot-tall communications tower, proposed to be built on Grigs Road, which would improve public and first responder safety in the event of a disaster in Highlands Ranch.

The purpose of the tower is to improve emergency communication in the northern part of Douglas County for first responders, including, but not limited to, law enforcement, fire departments, schools, public works and road crews.

“Public safety is paramount,” said Robert McMahan, captain of support services in the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. “Douglas County is working on providing the best public safety communication for the citizens.”

Currently, communication among agencies is “poor to nonexistent” in the northern part of Douglas County, McMahan said. He said the northern part of the county receives spotty coverage, and the terrain and topography of Highlands Ranch requires a tower to improve communication. He said the Northern Simulcast Cell radio communication towers that officials use are not to be confused with cellular phone towers.

Victoria Starkey, the facilities, fleet and emergency support services director for Douglas County, said the communications system is divided into the northern part and the southern part of the 844-square-mile county.

The proposed Grigs Road tower concerns the northern part of the county. According to an information packet, three of the Northern Simulcast Cell towers are erected and are located on Hess Road, Rocky Point and Silver Heights. All three of the existing towers will be receiving new antennas and equipment, and the towers at Silver Heights and Rocky Point will have new equipment buildings added to them.

The proposed Grigs Road tower is yet to be erected. According to the packet, the proposed site is “on the north side of Grigs Road, about one mile northwest of its intersection with Daniels Park Road and one mile south of Valleybrook Circle, just southeast of the parking lot for the East-West Regional Trail.”

The property where the tower is proposed is owned by the Centennial Water and Sanitation District, but in the Highlands Ranch Open Space Conservation Area. However, the OSCA subarea allows public facilities, and the packet states that “the OSCA Plan allows `electrical, (not to exceed 115 KV), telephone, communication, or natural gas distribution facilities’ as a use by right.”

The tower will be visible from numerous areas, with the nearest residential properties about 0.8 mile to the north of the proposed location. Additionally, the central ceremonial ring of the Tall Bull Memorial Grounds is approximately a mile south of the proposed tower, according to the packet.

However, the packet states that the “open nature of the lattice tower will nominally reduce its visibility.”

McMahan said that not only will the tower help to improve emergency services to residents, it helps with the safety of the first responders.

“When they don’t have a radio signal to talk back, (it puts) the officers in danger,” McMahan said, adding that radio towers only have so many frequencies, and a lot of the area’s communication issues include the inability of emergency teams to talk to each other.

He said the towers now usually permit a responder to hear a transmitted message, but not speak in response.

McMahan said by adding the Grigs Road tower, a “loop” between each of the towers will improve tower-to-tower communication.

“(The towers) have to work together and have to provide a footprint for full coverage in Douglas County,” McMahan said.

Starkey said discussions on the project began in April. She said there is an established process with specific steps that must be taken before moving forward with the project.

“We want to present intelligent information (and) have answers to all questions,” she said. “(We also) want to talk through the process and help educate the citizens.”

The packet states that “Douglas County is in the process of negotiating an agreement to lease a portion of the property from the Centennial Water and Sanitation District in support of this project.”

Starkey said 48 different sites were studied for the new communications tower, and Grigs Road was chosen because it will provide the best coverage on land that is available to the county to build on. Starkey said, however, there are still a few more studies to conduct to “make sure there is not an area that would work better” for the new tower.

The information packet was provided to the Highlands Ranch Community Association delegates at a July 15 meeting. Starkey said the HRCA requested more time, so after the Highlands Ranch Development Review Committee makes a proposal, it will then go to the county planning commission.

Starkey said officials are “looking at” September for zoning, which is a step in the planning commission’s process. Then, Starkey said, the “ultimate decision-makers” will be the Douglas County commissioners.

“The goal is to be able to handle any incident (and) adequately provide the best service to the citizens (plus ensure) the safety of the first responders,” McMahan said. “The right coverage for public safety and the environmental concerns need to balance.”