Press-Republican

December 14, 2012

APA OKs Essex County communication system

By KIM SMITH DEDAM
Press-Republican

---- — RAY BROOK — The Adirondack Park Agency approved 14 permits Thursday for the new Essex County emergency communication system.

Most of the permits are for upgrades to tall telecommunication towers.

The public-safety radio system was planned and pieced together over the past two years as a series of infrastructure improvements, primarily with updates to existing towers.

REVIEWED IN STAGES

Project design was reviewed by APA staff in an ongoing manner as engineering at each site was completed.

The dovetailed-approach proved efficient — the project met with commissioners’ approval Thursday with less than an hour’s worth of review.

No public comments weighed in either for or against the system upgrade, which will improve both radio-frequency strength and reach throughout the county.

SHARING

APA Staff Planner Lee Walrath took the lead in shepherding the complex project through APA review.

He told commissioners that it replaces a 1950s-era system and shares components between county Emergency Services, State Police and New York State Electric & Gas Co., “so there won’t be a need for three separate systems.”

Co-location, or sharing on towers, is part of the APA tower’s policy.

TOWERS, EQUIPMENT

The project involves construction of one new tower and one new panel reflector, replacement of two towers with taller towers and the lowering of one tower, in Peru, by about 200 feet.

The new tower will be built on Belfry Mountain in Moriah, Walrath said, and current tower structures there will be taken down, so the county can better control who places antennae on that site.

Co-location of new equipment will be accomplished at six sites on private land and on four state land sites: Little Whiteface, Gore Mountain, Black Mountain (in the Town of Dresden) and at the State Police headquarters in Ray Brook.

At Little Whiteface, Essex County Emergency Services will replace existing equipment when the new Ski Patrol building at the top of the Cloudsplitter gondola lift is built.

Essex County will replace existing microwave dishes on a fire tower at Gore Mountain.

The same type of dish replacement will take place at Black Mountain.

And State Police updated their state-land Unit Management Plan to incorporate emergency equipment updates on microwave towers behind their Ray Brook headquarters.

In similar fashion, Essex County’s equipment on the Public Safety Building in Lewis will be improved with the new system’s installation.

Other sites include replacing existing equipment on Mount Defiance in Ticonderoga; Mount Morris in Tupper Lake; Mount Pisgah in Saranac Lake; Wells Hill in Lewis; Saddle Hill in Lewis; Angier Hill in Westport; inside the Observatory on Whiteface summit; on Blue Mountain in Blue Mountain Lake; and at Terry Mountain in the Town of Peru. 

PERU TOWER

The Terry Mountain tower, at about 890 feet tall, was built before the APA was formed, Walrath said.

Essex County purchased that tower, he told the commissioners, and will lease slots on the telecommunication structure to recoup costs.

Originally built for a radio station, the tower in Peru will be lowered to about 690 feet tall as it sits just at the border of the Adirondack Park.

Commissioners understood that most work will either replace current equipment or improve the tower sites and asked very few questions about proposed updates.

SONGBIRD PROTECTION

Walrath said APA included conditions in four of the permits anticipating federal protection of a rare songbird.

Federal wildlife officials are looking to add Bicknell’s thrush to the endangered-species list, so APA looked carefully at four sites that are potential habitat: Mt. Morris, Little Whiteface, Gore Mountain and Blue Mountain.

No vegetative clearing is planned at these sites, Walrath said.

“We found that the project wasn’t going to have an impact except during construction,” he told the board.

So permits for those four towers have conditions seeking expert monitoring of each site for bird nesting or breeding activity as construction progresses.

The Olympic Regional Development Authority already has an extensive Bicknell’s monitoring program in place on Whiteface.

RELIEVED

Essex County Emergency Services Director Don Jaquish was at the APA meeting.

“It’s very much a relief, that’s for sure,” he said when the approval came on Thursday, ending an extensive design and planning process.

“It was a cooperative effort with many firms involved: state emergency services, APA, State Police, NYSEG — we had team meetings, calls every week. It was 2008 when we really started in earnest.”

The work with APA began with pre-application procedures in 2010, Walrath said.

FALL 2013 TARGET

Jaquish said they will begin building now with hopes to have the entire system operational by fall 2013.

“Then you’ll go through a series of testing procedures. We will operate them side by side for a while to make sure it is working properly. It might be spring of 2014 before we turn off the old system.”

The entire Essex County Public Safety Communication System cost a total $16 million, with the county’s portion allocated to $10 million. 

“Grants will offset at least $2 million, in part from Land Mobile Radio in NYS Interoperability Grants,” Jaquish said.

“The $10 million is already bonded, so grant monies will offset that cost. The balance is covered by partners in the process.”

APA unanimously approved the project in 14 parts so each could be updated individually in the future, if necessary.

Email Kim Smith Dedam: kdedam@pressrepublican.com