Officials might consider building a new radio tower on Red Mountain to help fix communication issues sheriff’s deputies are experiencing in areas of Benton County.
Poor service in sections of the county has been an ongoing issue for years, ever since a radio tower was moved on Rattlesnake Mountain after an order from the Department of Energy to clear structures on the ridge.
The move — which shifted the tower about a half-mile to the south side of the mountain — has led to unreliable service, primarily in Benton City, officials said. Deputies are also dealing with spotty service in areas of West Richland, Hanford and Prosser.
The service issues, especially with portable radios, have sheriff’s office officials concerned for deputy safety.
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“It seems the problem is getting worse,” Lt. Steve Caughey told commissioners at a board meeting last week.
Benton County Emergency Services officials met last week to review a study done by Motorola more than a year ago to come up with solutions to the coverage problem, said Doug DeGraaf, IT manager.
The study identified Red Mountain and Chandler Butte as possible places where towers could be built. The sites would each host a tower and facility to house equipment.
Motorola estimated that building a tower and facility could cost $1.8 million, though officials are optimistic a potential project could be completed for less, said DeGraff, who spoke to county commissioners at the meeting.
A site on Red Mountain would give better coverage to Benton City and would likely solve a majority of the communication issues, DeGraaf said. The Chandler Butte site would help with better reception around Benton City, Prosser and spots along the Yakima River.
“Red Mountain does a fantastic job of looking into the city of Benton City because Benton City is a bowl,” DeGraaf said.
Emergency Services officials plan to meet in December to talk further about erecting a new tower. A recommendation would then be presented to county and city officials, who would decide whether to pay for the project.
An additional tower would be the six transmission site in the county, a number DeGraf says is low considering the size of the coverage area. Spokane reportedly has 17 sites to help with reception.
“The issue has been there for a while,” DeGraaf said. “We have solutions, it’s just a matter of (what site officials) want to pick. Something needs to be done.”