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Hagerman plans to erect new communications tower

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Hagerman Emergency Medical Services Director Chad Hamill. (Submitted Photo)

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The town of Hagerman has been offered a free communications tower for the antennae they use for emergency communications. They now plan to apply for a grant for funds needed to complete the installation.

“It is a necessity. We have to have it,” said Emergency Medical Services Director Chad Hamill.

He said that for about 18 years, Hagerman has used free of charge a communications tower owned first by Plateau, then by Verizon and, since 2011, American Tower Corp.

Those companies utilized the tower south of the town for their cellphone services, but they also allowed Hagerman to use it for two antennae that carried fire, emergency medical services and police communications.

According to Hamill, the town’s emergency crews cover south Chaves and north Eddy counties.

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Hamill said that American Tower recently told Hagerman — a small rural town south of Roswell with a population of about 1,250 — that it would have to pay $3,600 a month to continue to use the tower.

“Obviously we are a small town and we can’t afford that,” he said, “and Chaves County can’t afford that. That’s a lot of money.”

The cost wasn’t the only issue, either, Hamill said.

He explained that the town’s antennae are located fairly far down on the existing 280-foot tower, which means that the town’s emergency agencies have experienced more interference and static with their signals as the number of cell towers in the area has increased.

Town leaders started considering alternatives, including leasing other tower space. That’s when Southwestern Wireless, based in Roswell, made an offer to give the town a 320-foot tower for free and donate the labor to erect it. Hagerman will own the tower and will be able to place up to eight antennae on it, which Hamill said means that future problems with static or interference are not expected to occur.

The president of Southwestern Wireless, which serves customers throughout southeastern New Mexico and often works with police, EMS and fire agencies, said he thought the donation made sense.

“They are needing a communications tower in the area and we had that tower available, and we decided to help the community and the area by giving it to them,” said Collins Key.

Key said the tower had been sitting in the company’s yard, and he chose not to estimate its value. But Hamill said that the town’s preliminary estimates of the cost of a new tower and the labor and materials needed to make it functional were anywhere between $180,000 to $250,000.

The new tower is expected to be erected on a 42-acre parcel of land owned by Hagerman near the intersection of Petree and Shoshoni roads.

Hamill and Police Chief Rachelle Bateman said what the town is seeking now is the $10,000 to $15,000 to cover the costs of building a concrete pad for the tower and purchasing some of the ancillary equipment needed to make the antennae functional.

While the town certainly will accept donations or other sources of funding, Hamill and Bateman think their best option at this point is to apply for a Community Facilities grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development Program. The due date for that is July 2.

Tuesday night the town held a public meeting to discuss the town’s plan. Hamill said no objection to that plan has been expressed so far.

Even if the grant is funded, the public still will have time to comment, Hamill said. Public meetings would be held to obtain approval for accepting the grant money and providing the town’s matching funds.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.