Emergency responders in Berks County are butting heads with environmentalists. It's all over new emergency communication towers that are set to go up in the next several months.
The countywide project to upgrade emergency dispatch radio towers has not been sitting well with environmentalists.
Three of the towers are planned to be erected near the Appalachian Trail. Opponents told the Berks County commissioners that those towers would destroy the beauty of the trail.
At the county commissioners' meeting Thursday, Commissioner Kevin Barnhardt said safety is the top priority.
"We are mindful of that, but at the same time, for them to come here and enjoy the county and to live here, we have to keep them safe," said Barnhardt.
Several emergency responders, including a number of police chiefs, told the commissioners that the upgrades are critical.
In fact, Chief Paul Stolz, of the Caernarvon Twp. Police Dept. and president of the Berks County Chiefs of Police Association, said 40% of Berks County has little to no dispatch communication service.
"The lack of tower sites, officers and fire personnel or emergency services cannot reach the dispatchers or the dispatchers cannot reach them," said Stolz.
Nine emergency towers presently cover Berks County. The plan is to put up 19 towers at a cost of $60 million.
For the past 20 years or so, police said all of their departments have had to share the same dispatch frequency. The current system, they said, not only jeopardizes the safety of residents, but officials on the job.
Sheriff Eric Weaknecht said that was a big problem in Albany Township on June 29, 2011 when Deputy Kyle Pagerly was killed in the line of duty.
Exeter Township police Ofc. Rocco DeCamillo demonstrated the problems with the current system inside the Target store on Perkiomen Avenue, just a half-mile away from his police station.
"Berks 25-1. They're not talking to us. They have no idea I'm calling right now," said DeCamillo, "These radios don't have enough output to boost the signal out to them, so they can't hear us."
County officials have agreed to lower the heights of the towers from 490 feet to 199 feet because of the environmental concerns over bird wildlife. Officials are hoping to have the new towers up and running by January 2013.
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