The Shire of Kojonup will forge ahead with a plan to build a new communications tower despite having a request for funding rejected by the Department of Fire and Emergency Services. Councillors voted at a June 21 meeting to commit to self-funding a new tower after approaches to DFES were largely unsuccessful. In his report to councillors, Shire chief executive Grant Thompson said staff had been looking into the construction of a new bushfire communications tower “for some time”, as well as its location. “Council has previously deferred decisions to invest in a new tower based on seeking further information and verification of the tower communications ‘shadow’ as well as trying to secure funding from DFES to co-fund the construction of a new tower,” he said. The proposal for a new communications tower dates back to at least February 2017, when the council agreed to form a technical working group on the matter. Council staff met with DFES representatives in March this year to make the request for co-funding, which was rejected. “In its response to the Shire’s request for co-funding, the DFES radio communications team claim they have conducted extensive analysis and service improvement works to the WA Emergency Radio Network during the project and more recently in 2019 and 2020,” Mr Thompson said. Councillors were told the rejection was due to the tower’s proposed use for the council’s radio communications networks, internet services and as a community radio transmitter. “Under the provisions of the Emergency Services and Bushfires Acts, DFES can only expend Emergency Services Levy funds relating to the provision of prescribed emergency services, and accordingly, the DFES Commissioner has no authority to allocate funds for the new tower,” a DFES representative said. However DFES confirmed it was willing to pay to have its infrastructure relocated to the new tower once it was completed. At their June meeting, councillors considered a report which put forward three potential options: co-locating its infrastructure to an existing tower such as those used by WA Police or the National Broadband Network; constructing a new tower on Samson Road; and building a new tower at a new location. The new location option was the council’s preferred option. Speaking after the meeting, Mr Thompson said there were two key reasons the council was looking at a new location. “Firstly, the current tower is coming to the point where it is at the end of its useable life,” he said. “Secondly, we want to increase radio frequency coverage — it has been identified as an issue and it is something we want to improve.” The Shire will investigate other sources of funding to build the tower, but is willing to fund the entire project. “As it stands, the current situation is a significant risk and it needs to be resolved,” Mr Thompson said. “The bushfires we have had during the last two years has shown us how critical communication channels are in an emergency situation.” A new tower is estimated to cost between $350,000 and $500,000, with the exact cost expected to be finalised in the coming weeks. It is expected to be under construction within a year.