Despite Olney Protests, Council Approves 10 New Radio Towers

The Montgomery County Council approved a plan Tuesday to install 10 new radio towers in the county, which completes a new emergency communication system. In total, the county will have 22 radio towers.

One of the towers will be built in Olney on Georgia Avenue near the Intercounty Connector. Before the vote, State Sen. Ben Kramer (D-19) and a group of community leaders and residents from the Brookmanor Estates neighborhood protested outside of the Council Office Building in Rockville.

The communications system is being replaced because county officials say that the current 20-year-old system is “breaking at an alarming rate.”

Montgomery County Fire & Rescue Chief Scott Goldstein talked to MCM’s Doug Tallman on the Montgomery Talks podcast about the Mother’s Day outage that silenced emergency communications for 14 hours.

“The reliability is critical for public safety responders,” Goldstein said.

Some residents in the Brookmanor Estates neighborhood — which neighbors the intercounty connector — are upset not only because they’re concerned about the value of their houses and possible “health risks” but also because of the inconsistent communication they’ve received about the project.

In March, The Greater Olney News reported that more than 300 people protested the tower at Cashell Elementary School in Rockville because the news wasn’t communicated with them about the addition of the tower.

Eventually, County Executive Marc Elrich gave in to political pressure and postponed the tower that would be constructed in Olney and in Darnestown.

The Washington Post reports that upon hearing this news, the Montgomery County firefighters union reached out to Gov. Larry Hogan for help in moving forward with the communications system project. Hogan took to Twitter, calling the actions of Montgomery County officials inexplicable.

Hogan’s tweets effectively moved the project forward.

At the protest on Tuesday, Kramer attacked Hogan and Councilmember Hans Riemer (who was critical of Elrich for temporarily canceling the project). Kramer accused Riemer of “disseminating misinformation about the tower and the implications of relocating the Olney tower.”

“Ben Kramer doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” Riemer told MCM on Tuesday.

Riemer said, “There was no way to find an alternative site without delaying the alternative site 18 months” while also keeping the project on budget.

Elrich has since come around to upgrading the public safety network. When Dale Tibbitts, special assistant to Elrich, testified in a public hearing before the council on Tuesday, Riemer said that his remarks proved that Kramer doesn’t have his facts straight.

“We need to move forward with the planned network and delaying a critical public safety network is unacceptable,” Riemer said.

When asked about the community’s concerns about “health risks,” Riemer called the claims unfounded.

“It’s a health issue if fire and rescue can’t coordinate if your house is on fire.”

Riemer acknowledged that the outreach about the project to community members “wasn’t the best.”

John Seng, a member of the Greater Olney Civic Association and resident of Brookmanor Estates, said the community didn’t have any faith that they could change the council’s mind. However, he hoped that the political pressure could get residents a meeting with the governor’s office so that they could speak to Hogan about another location.

When asked about the possibility of meeting with community members, Shareese DeLeaver-Churchill, a spokesperson for Hogan told MCM in an email that their office discussed the towers with Elrich at a meeting in June.

Mike Ricci, the communications director for Hogan, sent MCM a statement that said, “This isn’t about politics, it’s about public safety, and providing our emergency responders with the tools they need to adequately protect our communities and our citizens.”

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Deirdre Byrne

About Deirdre Byrne

Deirdre Byrne is a social media coordinator for Montgomery Community Media. She can be reached at dbyrne@mymcmedia.org or on twitter at @DeirdreByrneMCM.

Comments

2 Responses to “Despite Olney Protests, Council Approves 10 New Radio Towers”

  1. Avatar
    On August 1, 2019 at 9:37 am responded with... #

    The towers are needed to improve public safety radio system coverage in the county for ALL its citizens. The neighbors who are complaining are simply practicing NIMBYism in it most banal form.

  2. Avatar
    On August 2, 2019 at 9:47 am responded with... #

    True. Selfish and self centered. Thank God for the ICC.

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