Curry County commissioners again postponed approving emergency funding to purchase new microwave equipment that enables emergency services — law enforcement, fire, ambulance and others — to communicate with dispatchers and each other throughout the county.
Commissioner Chris Paasch said he wanted more information, despite presentations to the board in the past by Day Wireless, the contractor hired to maintain the communications towers, said Sheriff John Ward.
“He thinks there may be equipment that may be cheaper,” Ward said. “But he didn’t realize this is contract pricing for all that equipment; we piggybacked off Washington County to get that pricing.”
The microwaves have been at their end-of-life for years, according to Ward, and a couple of them have even fallen from their towers this winter, eliminating communication in the south end of the county and requiring deputies to use cell phones or double up to respond to calls.
A microwave tower at the Brookings site only broadcasts so far, according to Ward, so deputies in far reaches of South County are unable to use it or their cell phones.
That’s a situation Ward doesn’t like.
“I’ve told all my deputies: if they don’t have any communication, to phone in, contact us for a cover unit,” Ward said in January. “It doesn’t matter what kind of call it is, I want them to double up — even if I have to call someone off-duty to go with them. In this day and age, you never know what you’re going to run into; the... simplest thing can turn dangerous in an instant.”
Ward told commissioners in January he didn’t know how long the existing systems would last — and four days later, a microwave that had been just reinstalled on the Bosley Butte tower near Carpenterville fell from its perch.
Work crews had also been forced in the past several months to rob parts from other towers to keep others going. The microwave at Cape Blanco had been out for some time, as well.
Ward is seeking the replacement of microwave units for five existing towers at Agness, Cape Blanco, Grizzly Peak, Black Mound and Bosley Butte, and a new ones for the tower at the Brookings Emergency Operations Center next to town hall and at the Sheriff’s Office.
The cost, he said is $791,000 without a warranty; with a four-year warranty, it would be $821,000.
The additional equipment at the Brookings site would also create a “ring” that, if a tower in the system went down, would enable communications transmissions to circle back to others, providing redundancy.
“If we continue to postpone this, it’s going to get into the rainy season, and we’re going to be like when it went down in December,” Ward said.
He proposes that, under emergency funding, the board of commissioners take the funds from the Road Fund Reserves; he suggests the board opt to reimburse that money in the future.
The system is functioning at the moment, Ward said.
“But everything’s put up with spare parts and not supported by the manufacturer,” he said. “They don’t make the parts, they don’t sell them, they don’t service them.”