The Deschutes 911 service district intends to build a transmission tower on Overturf Butte to solve problems consistently reported by law enforcement since a new radio system went live in July.

But the plan hasn’t gained approval, and it’s not known for certain if it will work.

Deschutes County Commissioner Phil Henderson said at Tuesday’s monthly Deschutes 911 board meeting that he wasn’t aware the district had settled on the Overturf site, and believed other options were on the table.

Tom Anderson, county administrator, cautioned that the tower would be more of a wooden pole, like the kind that supports overhead power lines.

“People hear the word ‘tower,’ and they get nervous,” he said.

In 2006, residents in the Overturf area opposed a plan by Verizon to build a 70-foot tower at the site that used a common lattice design.

In 2018, Overturf doesn’t have a cell tower, but it does feature several small telemetry towers related to the city’s water operations.

City code restricts height in public facilities zones at 55 feet.

Henderson said the County Commission should get more information about the troubled analog-to-digital transition.

Deschutes 911 is composed of 15 Deschutes County fire and police agencies and administered by the county government. In July, all of its police agencies moved to a new, $5 million digital radio system by Harris Corp.

Officers immediately reported problems with dropped calls, and faint and garbled audio. Complaints peaked in December when a channel went down.

Deschutes 911 receives an average of 50 complaint tickets from officers and dispatchers every week.

Fire officials have expressed reservations about moving to the new system in the fall, after fire season, which is the plan.

The Deschutes 911 director who oversaw the transition, Steve Reinke, recently stepped down from Deschutes 911. Interim director Sara Crosswhite said her staff believes Overturf is the answer.

“Overturf is what we’re looking at as the solution for now,” Crosswhite said. “Once we get the temporary up, we’ll be able to evaluate a bit better and see if that is the right pick.”

A tower at Overturf Butte would address problems where coverage has been reported to be the worst — in west Bend near Central Oregon Community College and behind Awbrey Butte.

A temporary transmission tower, on a trailer, is being tested at Overturf and is expected to be operational next Wednesday, Crosswhite said.

“Hopefully, it will improve the coverage in the west side, where Bend PD was experiencing holes.”

Bend Police officers have filed hundreds of complaints since the Harris system went live in July.

In December, the Bend Police officers union filed a complaint with the Oregon Occupational Health & Safety Administration. An OSHA representative said this week the complaint is under investigation.

One major problem involved the wrong kind of antenna panels being installed on the roof of St. Charles Bend.

Bend Police Chief Jim Porter believes Overturf is the answer, but with non-police personnel performance-testing the temporary site, he won’t have answers until his officers are able to test it, he said.

“I feel we can’t get any better until we get Overturf Butte up and running,” he said.

Representatives of Bend Fire and Bend Police have asked for more power on the member board, arguing that their agencies handle significantly more calls than other agencies.

Henderson, Porter and other officials hope an audit reveals why the Harris transition was so flawed.

The county is drafting a request for proposals for the audit, but it’s received an unsolicited bid by a national firm, Federal Engineering.

Anderson said the firm had likely seen news reports of the district’s issues with Harris.

It’s bid is comprehensive but its $135,000 cost is probably too steep.

“We want to see where things went wrong so those things don’t occur on future projects,” he said.

— Reporter: 541-383-0325, gandrews@bendbulletin.com

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