'We can no longer maintain it': Westport RTM approves $4.6 million to replace town radio system

An exterior of Westport Town Hall in Westport, Conn., on Friday Apr. 17, 2020.

An exterior of Westport Town Hall in Westport, Conn., on Friday Apr. 17, 2020.

Christian Abraham / Hearst Connecticut Media

WESTPORT — The Representative Town Meeting unanimously approved an appropriation of more than $4.6 million to replace the public safety radio system.

The upgrade is a key part of improving Westport’s emergency response, which was identified in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Isaias, a storm that left nearly the whole town without power.

“This is not just a fire department project this is benefiting all emergency services,” Westport Assistant Fire Chief Matthew Cohen said at the Tuesday meeting. “And what you’ll see in the scalability of the project is that it has the potential to benefit all town services down the road as their legacy systems become antiquated.”

The funds would help the town join the Connecticut Land Mobile Radio System, a statewide radio system. This would increase the coverage and the system’s reliability during outages, Cohen said.

“It’s a state of the art radio network that allows us to leverage much of the equipment that Westport would not have to purchase,” he said, adding the town would be required to build out its goal of 95 percent building coverage.

The town would join a five-year contract with the state that automatically renews for four additional terms. The state would not charge the town to use the system, Cohen said.

He said the town’s current radio system has parts that are becoming unrepairable with replacements becoming increasingly more difficult to find. He added it was a favorable time to update the system because the town is able to leverage a new partnership with the state to increase purchasing power.

The radio system is estimated to cost about $3.74 million. In comparison, refreshing existing systems to give the town complete autonomy could cost more than $4.75 million.

Additional fees plus a 10 percent contingency for the radio project brings the cost to $4,635,408.

“While we’ve theoretically accounted for any problems the contingency is important,” Cohen said, adding this would also help to stop any potential delays in the project.

Cohen said a vendor has not been found yet and the town is working collaboratively with Fairfield since they are moving into a shared dispatch system and systems will need to match. A request for proposal has been drafted for the project, he said.

The statewide radio system is already used by 37 federal, state and local agencies. Cohen said the upgrade will also reduce the number of radio sites the town maintains from six to one, with the town responsible only for its sole site.

“I think we’re at a time where we need to upgrade and replace what we have because we can no longer maintain it,” Cohen said.

RTM members questioned what would happen to the town’s other sites as well as if there were health impacts from the microwaves from the new system.

Cohen said existing sites were on town owned public safety property and the new system included a focused beam that had minimal impact on ground radiation based on its elevation.

“There’s no ground effects based on the focal nature of that beam,” he said.

Richard Jaffe, a RTM member, said the town is a fine place to live because of the dedicated effort of its public service employees as well as its school system.

“The public protection folks make up a key component of our quality of life,” Jaffe said. “They’ve carefully studied the issue and this is the most cost-effective way for them to solve a problem and continue to serve the town at the high level they do.”