Pa. officials work with Nextel to fix new radio system

A proposal by Nextel would have the phone company complete fire communication antenna preparation work for York County

By Melody Asper
The Evening Sun

WEST MANHEIM, Pa. — Many areas of West Manheim Township have long been known as "dead-zones" for Nextel cell-phone communications, but that soon might become a thing of the past.

Municipal officials are considering a conditional-use request from Nextel Communication of Mid-Atlantic Inc. to place a cell-phone antenna on the water tower behind the township building.

If approved, Nextel also would complete preparation work for additional antennas that York County officials hope would eliminate transmission problems Hanover area firefighters have encountered since the new communications system was installed.

The conditional-use request, and plans for the antenna, are slated for discussion at a public hearing Thursday, and the supervisors could approve the request following the 7 p.m. hearing.

Nextel's plans call for the antenna to be placed at the top of the 121-foot-tall York Water Co. tank. The proposed plans also include the construction of a small equipment shelter on township land at the base of the water tower.

The water tower was built in 2008 on a 110-by-110-foot tract of township-owned land just southeast of the municipal building along Baltimore Pike. The new tower replaced the old one near Pleasant Hill.

According to the agreement drawn up when the tower was installed, any profits from antennas or other equipment are to be divided with West Manheim getting 60 percent and York Water getting 40 percent.

A new 911 communications system installed last year left firefighters unable to communicate with one another at fire scenes in many parts of the Hanover area. The problems — which generally occurred only in southwestern York County — were bad enough that local fire chiefs decided to have firefighters carry their old radios, along with their new ones, to fire scenes.

The county commissioners in September voted to install two new towers in the Hanover area to help fix the problem. One was to be installed at Hanover Hospital, and the other at the West Manheim Township building.

A plan that would allow placing the 911 antenna on the water tower has been suggested, and is under review by York County officials, said Township Manager Kevin Null.

"If the antennae is approved, Nextel has agreed to do the preparation work for the second (fire communication) antenna at the same time as they do theirs," said Null. "So when the county is ready — the tower will be ready."

The proposed 911 antenna will need to go through the same approval process as the Nextel antenna, including having a public hearing, before going to the supervisors for approval, said Null.

If approved, the Nextel antenna will be the second cell-phone provider within just a few months to bring clearer cell-phone communications to the township.

Last fall, West Manheim officials approved the installation of a new Cingular Wireless/AT&T cell phone tower at the West Manheim Township Elementary School on Baltimore Pike.

The 180-foot monopole cellular tower, which has now been built, was erected at a location 192 feet behind the existing school building. The land is rented to the communications company by South Western School District.

Several residents in neighborhoods near the school protested the approval of that tower, citing safety concerns and fears the tower would cause property values to drop. Supervisors said they had little leverage to deny the request.

The public hearing for the Nextel antenna at the water tower will be held Thursday at 7 p.m. at the West Manheim Township building, 2412 Baltimore Pike.

More information on the antenna and the amount that the township would be paid for the use should be available at the hearing. The supervisors could consider adopting of Nextel's conditional-use request at their meeting immediately following the hearing.

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