CAPE ELIZABETH — Town officials cleared the last procedural hurdle Nov. 17 for a new tower that will help improve communications and eliminate dead spots for the town’s police, fire and public works departments.

The planning board approved the planned 185-foot tower and support building at 8 Dennison Drive, on the same property as the town’s recycling center, said Town Manager Matthew Sturgis.

“Everything on our end is good to go,” he said.

The tower, Sturgis said, will cost $375,000, which will come out of the 2021 budget. Right now, Sturgis said, the town’s communications are handled by three separate, smaller towers, all privately owned. The town’s contract with one provider was expiring.

Sturgis said that all three departments will be served by a single, taller tower that is more centrally located.

“It helps us provide a substantially superior level of coverage than what we have,” he said.

Fire Chief Peter Gleeson said the current system has another problem: None of the current towers have backup generators.

“If we lose power, we have to go up and manually put a generator in place,” Gleeson said.

The new tower, he said, is on town property, which makes all the difference.

“We control the site, we control access to the site and it’s got a generator,” he said.

Police Chief Paul Fenton said his officers are most affected by the spotty coverage, notable in areas of town such as Crescent Beach, Bowery Beach and Shore Road near Fort Williams. Vehicle-based, or mobile radios, like the ones in his department’s cruisers, he said, have a better chance of connecting, but the portable radios each officer carries have less range, making the coverage gap worse.

The most recent example of coverage problems, he said, occurred this spring, in the first week of May. A rookie officer, responding to a report of a prowler in one of the communication dead zones, radioed from her cruiser that she was going to chase a suspect on foot.

“As soon as she went from her mobile radio to her portable, they completely lost track of her,” Fenton said.

Fenton said the department sent officers to converge on the area to locate her. Everything worked out, Fenton said — the officer was fine, and had even caught the suspect by the time her fellow officers arrived, but for about five minutes, no one knew where she was, or how to get in touch with her.

“That five minutes seemed like an eternity,” he said. “It was a big wake-up call that there was a glaring issue.”

Sturgis said the town will put the project out for bids in mid-December. He said officials hope to see the tower finished in spring 2021.

Sean Murphy 780-9094

Email: [email protected]

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