Stretching up into the sky above Stanleyville is the county's oldest radio tower. For decades, the tower on Glendale Road has beamed radio signals for county law enforcement, fire and emergency responders, county highway departments and other entities who needed a way to quickly connect with their agents throughout the county.
Various county agencies assumed responsibility for the tower over the years, mowing the property, gassing up the generator and checking the equipment. But as those agencies have moved to the more reliable-yet more expensive-Multi-Agency Radio Communication System (MARCS), they have relinquished responsibility over the towers.
Now local volunteer fire departments, who still depend on the tower as their main line of communication with dispatchers, are concerned that responsibility over the tower is undefined.
JASMINE ROGERS The Marietta Times
Mike Matheny, an Emergency Medical Technician at the Devola Volunteer Fire Company, tests a squad radio Wednesday. Local volunteer fire departments are concerned about who will take responsibility for a tower they rely on now that the previous responsible agency has relinquished control.
"It's pretty much the central hub for all of our communication," explained Mark Wile, president of the county fire chiefs association.
The tower takes time and money to upkeep, noted Washington County Engineer Roger Wright.
Wright's office was the last to maintain the facility, taking over responsibility for the tower when the Washington County Sheriff's Office moved to its simulcast radio system a decade ago.
About the tower
The radio tower on Glendale Road is the oldest tower erected by the county for county use.
It is directly wired to the Washington County Sheriff's Office dispatch office and is therefore the main hub for all call outs at local volunteer fire departments.
In the past the Washington County Sheriff's Office and Washington County Engineer's Office used the tower and took responsibility for its maintenance.
Those agencies have moved to another system and volunteer fire departments are the main entities to use the tower now.
Volunteer fire departments are concerned that responsibility for the cost and actual physical upkeep of the tower is in limbo.
Source: Time research.
Since then, Wright's office had mowed the property, checked propane levels and purchased propane as needed for the generator, monitored the electric meter and paid the electric bill.
However, as the office planned a transition to MARCS, caring for the unused tower seemed inefficient. Wright notified the Washington County Commissioners in April 2013 that his office planned to hand over responsibility for the tower and did so early this year after its new communication system was in place, Wright said.
"We calculated the costs and gave them an estimation of what it would cost so they could do some planning," he said.
The costs of maintaining the tower are burdensome on the small local volunteer departments, said Wile.
In fact, small budgets are what keep the volunteer departments from completely switching over to MARCS, which the engineer's office and sheriff's office both use.
While all of the volunteer departments have gotten a grant to have at least one MARCS radio, it would take more than a dozen radios in each department to fully equip it. In addition, each radio comes with a $20 fee per month, said Wile.
There has been some talk that the state, which owns the MARCS, is considering waiving the monthly fee in the future, said Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks.
"I think it would be a good thing, and I think it would get the fire departments all on the same page," he said.
This year, the 17 volunteer fire departments split the maintenance cost of the Glendale tower and four other towers throughout the county with the Marietta Fire Department, two Emergency Medical Transport services and the county itself.
Splitting the cost has been the policy for years, but the practice did lapse in certain years-including 2012-and the county or responsible agency covered the cost, said Washington County Commissioner Ron Feathers.
For 2013, each of the 21 agencies paid approximately $250.
But now that Wright's office has officially stopped caring for the tower, the actual physical upkeep is in limbo.
An unruly yard and generator that is low on fuel are some immediate concerns, but there are others. Two buildings that house the equipment at the tower are in disrepair, and the generator itself has had some unreliable bouts, said Wile.
A secondary backup system of batteries will also need replaced soon, said Washington County Emergency Management Agency Director Jeff Lauer.
Things like the unmowed yard and power systems are not at a critical level at this time, but the tower needs an official maintenance plan, said Lauer.
"We just need to set it in concrete of when and who (is responsible) and how we're going to go about it," he said.
Feathers said the commissioners are currently working on scheduling a meeting with Lauer and representatives from the fire departments about use of the tower.
In the meantime, there is no risk of the tower going black, he said.