February 1, 2010

Duane officials favor taller cell towers



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DUANE — A cell-phone tower at the Duane Fire Hall is caught in an Adirondack tall-tower quandary.

Verizon Wireless began working with the Duane Fire Company to engineer the project in 2007.

In March, the Adirondack Park Agency staff will bring a proposed 80-foot tower project to commissioners for review, but town and emergency officials say the tower is too short.

F. Gil Paddock, vice-president and second assistant chief of the Fire Company, which uses the site for emergency radio communication, says the 80-foot design will not deliver a signal far enough to the rugged travel corridors of routes 30 and Old County Route 99, which connect the Tri-Lakes region and Malone.

There have been four accidents — two critical in the past seven months — that left travelers stranded without rescue for 45 minutes or more, Paddock said.

"This really becomes an issue of public safety. On June 17, Kathy Ojida was driving to work at Sunmount about 4:30 a.m. and went off Long Pond curve behind some bushes."

Ojida broke vertebrae in her back, punctured a lung and ruptured her liver and spleen in the crash, Paddock, a first-responder, explained.

"She laid there for a long time looking at her cell phone — no (cell service) bars."

Ojida managed to maneuver her body around enough to blare on the horn until a passerby heard the noise, but it took more than 45 minutes.

"We had to cut the top off the car to extricate her," Paddock said.

Another accident on Route 30 at McCollums in December left a woman down an embankment and out of sight. The driver managed to get out of the car and climb up to the road, where she waited for 45 minutes in sub-zero weather until someone else drove by and saw her.

Better communication would add safety to travel corridors here, something Duane fire officials have been working toward for years.

APA, Verizon Wireless and the Duane Fire Company flew test balloons at different heights last summer to review visibility at the Fire Hall site.

The end result left the project with an 80-foot tower.

Paddock compared maps of anticipated coverage over the town map.

"Cell signal would stop at the old Boy Scout camp; it would not cover Meacham or Deer River between Paul Smiths and Duane; 20 percent of the 911 addresses would not have coverage. There are also 250 campsites at Meacham Lake and 83 private campsites; 66 percent of them would not be covered," Paddock said.

"We had an RF (radio frequency) map done by a private individual, and that showed a tower at 160 feet tall would cover almost into Paul Smiths. The Verizon tower needs to be higher than 160 feet in order to be workable."

Paddock and Town Supervisors Edward Lemieux Sr. (R-Duane) and H. Bruce Russell (R-Bellmont) met with three cell-phone companies, Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) and Assemblywoman Janet Duprey (R-Peru) at APA headquarters on Friday to discuss the need for taller towers.

"APA showed us potential sites for two more towers between Duane and Paul Smiths," Paddock said.

"But why spend the money? We all stated it would make more sense to have one taller tower than more in between."

Lemieux said the meeting was congenial.

"The agency didn't seem to be a brick wall like everybody says. But it did come out that it's important for staff to be able to tell commissioners there is support for the taller tower."

Local Government Review Board Executive Director Fred Monroe also attended that meeting.

"A Verizon attorney stated the obvious — that there is an inherent conflict between line of sight cell-phone technology and a 'substantial invisibility' standard of review," he said in a statement issued Sunday.

"Sen. Little reported that the State Police request more cell towers because they are needed for in-car computers used by troopers.

"All the cell companies expressed a strong preference for fewer, taller cell towers because they allow for co-location, which decreases their net costs. Verizon (Wireless) representatives reported that constructing a conventional monopole cell tower in the Adirondacks costs twice as much as outside the Adirondacks, that simulated tree towers (Frankenpines) cost three times as much as monopoles and that construction of a cell tower on a raw land site costs six times as much as co-location on an existing tower."

Paddock is bringing the issue to public debate, asking people to submit comments to APA expressing how they feel about the Duane fire station tower.

"Otherwise it won't show enough public support for it."

"That's pretty much where we are," Lemieux said.

"We need a tower taller than 160 feet. The park agency is 40 years old, I think using definitions that are 40 years old. But I think the agency is open to common sense."

Those interested in weighing in on the issue of taller versus more towers in Duane can send a letter to APA at Adirondack Park Agency, Cell Tower Review, P.O. Box 99, Ray Brook, NY 12977.

E-mail Kim Smith Dedam at: