Niagara Gazette

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April 21, 2013

County radio project oversights could cost $330k

Niagara Gazette — Niagara County has been warned of possible cost overruns exceeding $300,000 on its emergency communication system upgrade project.

Apparently, power lines in Lewiston, an industrial smokestack in Niagara Falls and a tree in Gasport are blocking line-of-sight microwave communication between radio towers in the seven-tower upgrade plan.

As a result, the new towers being constructed at the Upper Mountain, North Tonawanda/Gratwick Hose and Terry's Corners fire stations will have to be taller than 180 feet, the height that's written into the plan that was sold to the county.

Increasing the tower heights could add $330,000 to the cost of the upgrade project, which is tabbed at $10 million.

The county took on the system upgrade in conjunction with narrowbanding, a Federal Communications Commission-required move by public radio users to the narrow band of the broadcast spectrum. The upgrade will improve radio coverage and facilitate interoperability among emergency responder agencies including police, fire and public works. Motorola Solutions has the contract to install the infrastructure and supply the radio equipment.

The upgrade is being funded with a $6.8 million long-term loan, Homeland Security grants and the county's cut of a state E-911 surcharge on phones. Spending over and above $10 million would have to be covered with county fund balance, County Manager Jeffrey Glatz said this week.

Officials are taken aback by the news.

County Legislator David Godfrey, R-Wilson, chairman of the legislature's communtiy safety and security committee, said it's not just the extent of sudden tower "growth" that bothers him, it's also upgrade project manager L.R. Kimball & Associates' explanation for why that growth is necessary.

In a nutshell, he said, the experts who designed the system didn't account for some signal-blocking objects between towers.

The North Tonawanda tower may have to grow by 125 feet, to 305 feet tall, in order to communicate with the existing tower atop Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center. It's because the Covanta waste-to-energy factory smokestack is between them, Godfrey was told.

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