By LOHR McKINSTRY, Press-Republican
---- — ELIZABETHTOWN — The newly shelved bookmobile could see new life as a mobile command post for disasters in the three counties.
The vehicle, owned by the Clinton-Essex-Franklin Library System, was taken off the road because the regional library could no longer afford to operate it.
Essex County Emergency Services Director Donald Jaquish said Monday that the Library System has offered the bookmobile to the Emergency Services departments of the three counties for use as a mobile communications and command post.
There would be no cost to Essex County, he said, but he’d like the County Board of Supervisors to execute a memorandum of understanding so it could be used when needed.
As examples, Jaquish said the vehicle could be operated during floods, toxic spills or mass-casualty incidents, such as a bus crash on the Adirondack Northway.
“Clinton and Franklin and myself want to convert this to a communications van using grant funding,” he told the Essex County Public Safety Committee during a meeting. “We’ve looked at it. The Library System has agreed to donate this to us.”
He said Clinton County would insure and maintain the vehicle, and it would be housed there. Franklin County would convert it to the command center, installing multiple-agency radios, a conference table and a satellite phone.
He said that if any funds were needed for its upkeep, they would have to come from Department of Homeland Security grants or in-kind services.
Supervisor Randy Preston (I-Wilmington), who chairs the Public Safety Committee, said he had concerns about expensive repairs down the road.
“This vehicle would be in the neighborhood of a $400,000 vehicle,” he said.
Essex County could not afford to pay a share of such costs, Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava (R-Moriah) said.
“This would be very costly to maintain. You’re looking at thousands of dollars for an exhaust system (if it were needed). I know it would be nice to have it, but I think somewhere down the road ...”
Jaquish said Washington County Emergency Services has a mobile command center and has found it useful.
“At an ammonia leak in Washington County, where different agencies were involved (including) EPA, FEMA, it was used for a week,” Jaquish said. “Any large-scale event where multiple agencies are involved, it would be used.”
He said that existing surplus equipment would be installed in the vehicle.
“There are agencies our equipment (could) not talk to, state agencies such as DEC (State Department of Environmental Conservation),” Jaquish said. “The radio system we’re building has fire, police, DPW (Department of Public Works), EMS. It doesn’t necessarily mix radio systems together.”
Essex County is in the midst of a $10 million radio-upgrade project.
The Clinton County Legislature will vote on the proposal Wednesday night, Clinton County Legislator Robert Butler (R-Area 6) said Monday.
“I don’t foresee any obstacles. The command post would be used by all three counties. It could be used for things like the Comfort Inn fire (in Plattsburgh). We could use it for more effective coverage at disasters.”
He said the cost would only be about $1,000 a year to maintain the vehicle.
The project hasn’t been voted on yet in Franklin County.
The Essex County Public Safety Committee approved the project by a 5-to-2 vote Monday, with David Blades (R-Lewis) and Roby Politi (R-North Elba) opposed.
“Beware of kings bearing gifts,” Politi said. “I’m inclined to waver.”
Next, the plan would get a preliminary vote June 25 at the Essex County Ways and Means session, and if it were to pass there, a final vote July 2 at the board’s regular meeting.
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