A 40-foot high emergency communications tower on Gresham Butte could be replaced with an 180-foot tower under a proposal from the city of Portland’s Bureau of Technology Services.

The tower is in the 1100 block of Southwest Blaine Court on the southeast side of Gresham Butte, but is obscured by trees that are far taller, said Mads Ledet, president of the Gresham Butte Neighborhood Association.

“That’s a big tower,” Ledet said of the proposed replacement. “It will stick up like a pimple. It will certainly be very, very obvious it’s there.”

Gresham Fire Chief Scott Lewis estimated the top third, or about 60 feet of the proposed tower, would be visible.

No development application for the project has been submitted, but a pre-application conference was held Feb. 27. Portland officials also explained the proposal at a Gresham Butte Neighborhood Association meeting, as well as at another neighborhood meeting.

Once the application is filed, it will be evaluated by a city planner. Property owners within 300 feet of the site will be notified, as will the Gresham Butte Neighborhood Association.

Because it’s a type II process, no public hearing is required for city planners to determine whether to approve the application.

The city of Portland owns the 1.35 acres the tower is on. And the existing tower, which looks like a telephone pole with antennas on it, was built in 1992 when the system changed from VHF radios to the 800 megahertz radios that are still in use.

The site is one of 15 that comprise the Portland Public Safety Radio System, said Abby Coppock, a city of Portland spokeswoman.

“This system is used by first responders throughout Multnomah County for critical public safety dispatch communications, including police, fire and 9-1-1 services,” she said.

Shortly after the system change in 1992, emergency responders noticed a lack of coverage, particularly along the Sandy River and on the south side of area buttes.

“Radio waves travel in a straight line, so if there is a geographical obstruction, those waves don’t go through,” Lewis said.

In short, East Multnomah County has dead zones. To address those dead zones, and to move the public safety system to fully digital communications, the tower needs to be updated, Coppock said.

But Gresham residents have a history of protecting local buttes from development, an effort that Metro regional government and other cities have adopted as they buy up property to preserve open spaces.

Ledet said he’d rather see three 60-foot towers built than one tower that’s more than four times taller than the current one.

But that would cost at least three times more money than the $1 million price-tag for the proposed tower replacement on Gresham Butte, Lewis said.

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