By Noreen Marcus, FloridaBulldog.org
Just when it seems some Hollywood residents have lost their battle to keep a 911 radio tower out of a treasured public park, other obstacles loom.
They raise the question of whether a tower in West Lake Park, the final piece of an upgraded Broward County radio network for first responders, is inevitable after all.
And what’s taking so long?
The old 911 radio network failed during the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that killed 17 people and injured 17 others on Feb. 14, 2018. In the reckoning that followed, police and firefighters said the system was broken beyond repair and issued an urgent call to action.
Subsequent political and bureaucratic twists and battles have dragged on for so long–with no end in sight–that it’s possible the “Save West Lake Park” group may prevail.
“I don’t really consider that the county’s won yet because there’s still no tower,” said Walter J. Collins, the immediate past president of the West Lake Village Homeowners Association and a save-the-park leader.
TIME FOR NEW MOTOROLA CONTRACT
Now Broward County Administrator Bertha Henry is renegotiating an existing contract with Motorola, reportedly valued at $80 million, to upgrade the entire 16-site system.
The other 15 sites went online about a year ago. Broward County Commissioner Beam Furr said Henry and Motorola officials are discussing how to cover the costs of recalibrating the system to include the West Lake Park tower–whenever it’s built.
Last week Henry responded to a text from Florida Bulldog by writing that “our negotiations are near complete.” She did not elaborate.
Henry may want to lock in the park tower deal before she retires in the spring. Still, she has been known to switch gears when it comes to the 65-acre, multi-purpose regional park and marina south of Sheridan Street and near the Intracoastal Waterway.
After intense lobbying by residents to put radio equipment atop an east Hollywood high-rise instead of repurposing park land, Henry announced she’d given up on the tower. “We’re moving on,” she was quoted as saying in an August 2020 Florida Bulldog story.
MOVING BACK TO THE PARK TOWER
But that’s not what happened. Henry’s lieutenants kept pushing for the tower, using a lawsuit against Hollywood as leverage. They also engineered a bizarre and costly land swap involving Davie and Tamarac to sidestep a county charter prohibition against despoiling a regional park.
So who’s to blame for all the back and forth leading nowhere fast?
“The county would like to blame homeowners in West Lake Village and [nearby] Hollywood Lakes, but I think a good part of it is they just haven’t done the proper work and filed the necessary paperwork,” Collins said. “Then they did the backdoor deal with Tamarac with this land swap. It’s had a cumulative effect.”
Surprisingly, while the park debate has raged for years at the local level, the state has yet to weigh in. Once the new Motorola deal is done, presumably state environmental regulators will take their first look at the impact of putting a 325-foot tower in a park with a fragile ecosystem.
PROJECT NEEDS MANY APPROVALS
As of last week, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) reported it has received no paperwork from the county seeking approvals to build a tower and access road in West Lake Park. The agency does nothing until it gets a conversion application, press secretary Alexandra Kuchta explained in emails.
“We understand that the proposed route may impact county-owned lands that were conserved using grant funding from the Florida Recreation Development Assistance Program,” she wrote. “As these lands are currently in conservation and dedicated for outdoor recreation, this use may require an easement or lease, and any application would be reviewed in light of these conditions.”
Also, “this project may require additional authorizations including permitting from DEP’s Environmental Resource Permitting (ERP) program,” Kuchta wrote. “This program regulates activities in, on, or over surface waters or wetlands, as well as any activity involving the alteration of surface water flows. This includes activities in uplands that generate stormwater runoff from upland construction, as well as dredging and filling in wetlands and other surface waters.”
West Lake Park ticks some of those boxes. Together with neighboring Anne Kolb Nature Center, it boasts the largest mangrove estuarine habitat in Broward and abundant wildlife –143 species of birds and 68 species of fish, according to a county parks and recreation staff report.
Collins is a freelance producer and editor, not a scientist, but he said the park’s ecological importance should be obvious to all.
“Anybody that would fly over the park or take the time to explore it on the ground or by kayak would see that it’s a very sensitive area,” he said. On dog walks he spots wood storks, great blue herons and many other waterbirds.
‘IT BELONGS ON TOP OF A BUILDING’
Collins described a far less attractive landscape if the tower and separate 500-gallon fuel tank were situated there. “To see a 500-gallon fuel tank near the lake, with hurricanes and being this close to the coast, it makes absolutely no sense. If that thing were to rupture, it would kill all the fish.”
It seems unlikely the county will obtain all the necessary DEP permits to start construction soon. But Furr said he’s “hopeful and optimistic” the new radio tower will be up and running by Feb. 14, the fourth anniversary of the Parkland massacre.
Furr was the only one of nine Broward commissioners to vote against the West Lake Park tower site. “I put up as big a battle as I could,” he said.
He understands the commission’s concern for public safety outweighing environmental objections. “We’ve had two competing agendas and both are priorities,” Furr said. One was sacrificed for the other.
Looking ahead, Furr said he’ll keep searching for an alternative radio equipment staging area because “I do think it belongs on top of a building rather than in a park.”