Mauricio Julian Cuellar Jr., Alice Echo-News Journal

A new communications tower is in the works for Jim Wells County, to replace the damaged tower currently at the JWC Fairgrounds, County Judge L. Arnoldo Saenz said this week.

He, along with JWC Sheriff's Department Administrator Richard Palacios, is reviewing the specifications for the proposed new tower, and Saenz said the county may go out for bids as soon as next week.

During an annual inspection in January 2007, workers discovered a gash on one of the tower legs, caused by a maintenance accident at the site.

County officials do not know how long the tower had been damaged, but JWC, along with the city, has worked since then on a plan to correct the problem.

In the upcoming bid process, Saenz said they would give more than the two weeks notice required by law, in order to give companies more time to supply their bids.

The 300-foot communication tower has been in operation since 1972, according to county records.

The City of Alice had discussions previously about the possibility of repairing the tower, but Saenz said the difficulty in that approach is that some companies were reluctant to climb the tower in its current damaged condition.

"With that one leg compromised, the Federal Communications Commission said nobody wanted to climb it," Saenz said. He also pointed out that a few of the guylines are loose and in need of replacement.

With at least two additional antennas ready to be attached to the tower, the need for a strong tower, able to sustain the added weight, is great. Saenz said the county plans on replacing the tower with another 300-foot tower, which will be able to handle added antenna weight.

To go to a 400-foot tower would mean having to re-apply for a FCC license, which would be time-consuming and delay the project. By staying with the 300-foot height, the county will be able to utilize the license it currently has for 300 feet.

"We'll be working with the City of Alice and the Border Patrol on this, since both have a space on the tower," Saenz said.

The new specifications for the bid will also require the new tower have solid rod legs, for added strength, instead of the hollow tube legs which are utilized on the current tower. Between the time the gash on the leg was noticed, to now, repeaters have been set up in Orange Grove and Premont, to improve communication for the county.

Saenz said once the bids are in and selected, the project should take a few months to complete.

"Depending on the company, we might have the new tower up as early as mid-June," Saenz said.