Community divided over emergency services radio tower

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A Manatee County community is divided over a planned emergency communications tower that's set to go up just yards from a neighborhood. Residents who live nearby want the tower to be moved, but county officials say the tower is vital to first responders.

A few hundred people came to the Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church Thursday to weigh in on the tower.

Residents say the tower isn’t something they want so close to home and are upset the county didn’t talk to them first before starting construction.

Work on the tower was halted in May by Manatee County commissioners, who only learned of the tower after construction had already begun.

Residents and at least one county commissioner say the county should have heard the public’s input before they started building it, but according to a county official, they aren’t required to do so.

The 185-foot tower will cost about $35 million. The county has already spent about $600,000 on construction.

EMS workers say the tower is critical because, without it, dispatchers can’t communicate with first responders in some parts of the county.

“We’ve noticed a lot of dead zones in the southern part of our county and within those dead zones, it puts our first responders in jeopardy when calling for assistance,” explained Manatee County EMS assistant chief Larry Luh.

But residents are now pleading with the county to move the tower before they put more money into building the current tower, which sits along Prospect Road, just around the corner from an elementary school and feet from several homes.

“The tower can be moved or the tower can be eliminated. The real question is can the public safety community and those first responders live with those consequences?” asked Manatee County Chief public information officer Paul Alexander.