CHARLESTOWN — Officials from several southern Rhode Island municipalities gathered on Monday for a groundbreaking ceremony marking the start of construction of a new emergency communications tower. The 800-megahertz radio tower will be located behind the Charlestown police station but will benefit several additional towns, including Westerly, North Kingstown and Narragansett.
Rhode Island Emergency Management Director Marc Pappas said the new tower, expected to cost $1.2 million, will be the latest in the state’s ongoing upgrades of the emergency communications system that were mandated by the federal government after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Funding for the upgrades comes from the Department of Homeland Security.
“It’s a constant process to refurb the whole system throughout the state,” Pappas said. “This doesn’t complete the system, but it helps with some coverage gaps that we have.”
The new tower will replace a 140-foot tower that was erected in 2006. Motorola Solutions will oversee the design and construction of the new structure, which will be 175 feet tall and able to withstand 138-mile-per-hour winds. Charlestown is contributing $79,000 to the project, which will cover the cost of moving the town’s emergency communications infrastructure from its current location at the town hall to the new tower.
Charlestown Emergency Management Director Kevin Gallup said the location of the tower would benefit the entire southern portion of the state.
“Just having it in town was good for us,” he said. “Putting it here is good statewide, because it affects Burlingame, the management area, it takes care of a dead spot over in Westerly, it takes care of a dead spot in South Kingstown and initially when the 800 (megahertz) system came in, the Coast Guard was not involved. They have joined the 800 radio system since then, and now that the wind farm is off Block Island, they have to go further out, so … now they will have it.”
Charlestown police Chief Michael Paliotta said his department welcomed the new tower.
“The 800 system for us, it will make it more dependable along the coast, hopefully fill in some of the gaps we have right now with the topography,” he said. “Since it’s a partnership, it will get the rest of our antennas that much higher. It’s a bigger tower.”
The existing tower will be dismantled when the new tower is completed. Paliotta explained that there will also be a new building at the base of the tower.
“The new radios will be next to the tower in a heated building, like a garage, with a generator next to it for power outages,” he said.
The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management’s police director also attended the ceremony.
“There are 26 sites that provide all police, fire, rescue, emergency management, the ability to communicate as one group,” Dean Hoxie said. “It’s incredibly important that we can all speak with one voice on one system to provide the public the best possible protection.”
The groundbreaking represents the successful resolution of years of negotiations between Charlestown and the state. In 2018, the Town Council voted to oppose a proposal to build a new tower just off Route 1 at Cross Mills.
Council President Virgina Lee said switching the site to the police station was the best solution for both the state and the town.
“It took a long time to negotiate,” she said. “It’s taken several years, because the state had a statewide plan with Motorola of a particular grid, so it took a while to convince them that ‘can’t we amend that grid even a little to accommodate. You don’t just put in a tower that isn’t necessary in an historic district and at the same time, improve the situation for the town’ and they said, finally, ‘yes.’… It’s a great example of negotiating a bunch of different needs to a better solution for everybody.”
Construction of the new tower is expected to begin in the coming weeks.