Sheriff to modernize Peaked Hill radio hardware

Selectmen form fire chief selection committee; Menemsha work wrapping up.

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Dukes County Sheriff Robert Ogden received approval from Chilmark selectmen to upgrade communication equipment at the Peaked Hill tower. —Rich Saltzberg

Chilmark selectmen voted 2-0 to approve Dukes County Sheriff Robert Ogden’s request to upgrade hardware at a tower facility on Peaked Hill, the former site of a Cold War radar installation. Specifically, the sheriff asked to affix two dishes and two antennae to the tower. The work would also include making port entry holes to an equipment shelter at the site and the installation of radio equipment racks in that shelter, Pyramid Network Services project manager Rob McCabe, contractor for the Sheriff’s Department, told the board.

The equipment installation is part of the sheriff’s quest to modernize 911 service and public safety radio communications on the Vineyard.

In discussion on the tower work, some questions arose as to whether the Coast Guard, which has communication equipment there, had fully authorized work at Peaked Hill. Sheriff Ogden told the board he received a green light from both Station Woods Hole and Station Menemsha, with the proviso his department doesn’t tinker with Coast Guard infrastructure or hamper frequencies.

“Basically what we’re doing is we’re taking an antiquated, out-of-date piece of equipment that serves a purpose, like a transceiver … and replacing it with an updated version,” Ogden said. “It’s that same equipment. It’s the same operation. It’s the same function, and it doesn’t alter any frequencies or interrupt any services.”

Selectman Bill Rossi asked who the stakeholders are at the site. “Who’s controlling the equipment, and who needs to give authorization?” he asked.

“As I’m sure you’re all aware, there are several interests at Peaked Hill,” Ogden said. “The government’s there, the Coast Guard; there’s interest with the Chilmark Police — the town has some equipment there. All the equipment acts [independently] so as far as authorization into the facility itself; it’s controlled by General Dynamics. We have full authority, security code, and access to the facility independent of the other individual agencies that operate within that structure.”

Fire Chief David Norton raised concerns about the health of the paging system the fire department relies on.

“We seem to be having this problem with our pager frequencies,” he said. “In the past week or so the up-Island page, I don’t think, is working very well. Or it was out and now it’s back on. The other day West Tisbury had a fire. They called for mutual aid. I think only one of our pagers from one of our firemen worked. The rest of ours never even acknowledged, not even a page, not even a beep.”

“There is a pager system there that actually was serviced by a private vendor in the Island and that piece of equipment failed, and that’s why you didn’t have pages,” Sheriff Ogden said. The sheriff’s department recently replaced some of the faulty paging equipment at its own cost. “So that’s why you now have some pages,” he said.

Chief Norton said some of his firefighters still aren’t getting pages.

Deputy Sheriff Tony Gould, radio technical officer for the sheriff’s department, told Chief Norton that it’s likely some of those pagers are too old and need to be replaced.

“Certainly from a police point [of view], we support the sheriff’s initiatives to upgrade this communications system,” Police Chief Jonathan Klaren said.

In other business, the board also voted 2-0 to form a selection committee for Chief Norton’s replacement when he retires in July. Rossi was chosen to chair the committee, and former Police Chief Tim Rich was chosen as a committee member, as well as a yet-to-be-determined member of the fire department.

The board voted 2-0 to hold a special town meeting in June to address Excess and Deficiency Funds the High School Committee wishes to employ to cover a funding deficit, and to lease a school bus.

As contractors were busy beside Menemsha Texaco installing wooden railing to protect electrical pedestals, the board heard an update to the electrical infrastructure project at the harbor.

“The harbor electric project is reaching completion,” town administrator Tim Carroll said. “The GFI equipment is being shipped tomorrow or the next day, so it won’t be here for the weekend.”

Nevertheless, Carroll said the power would be on by Friday.

“So we’re going to have boats arriving on Friday and they’re going to power this up on Friday?” selectmen chairman Warren Doty asked.

Doty told Carroll to make sure the contractors had the electricity ready to go on Thursday so boats with transient slip reservations could access shore power for the start of Memorial Day weekend without any delays.

Selectman Jim Malkin was absent from the meeting.