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Lewis officials hopeful for radio funding in second go-round

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LOWVILLE — With more legwork completed and a new consultant on board, Lewis County officials are hoping they will secure state emergency radio system upgrade funds that eluded them last year.

“We’re being pretty optimistic that we’re in the running for a grant,” said Legislature Chairman Michael A. Tabolt, R-Croghan.

County lawmakers recently hired Syracuse area firm M.R. Costa Consulting Group LLC to help prepare and submit an application for Statewide Interoperable Communications Grant funding through the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services. The county is to pay the firm $75 per hour, with the total cost not to exceed $12,000.

M.R. Costa has had “good results in applying for grants” on behalf of other counties looking to improve their radio systems, said Legislator Jerry H. King, R-West Leyden.

Officials from Syracuse engineering firm C&S Cos., the county’s radio consultant, said that counties that were not funded in their initial application for communications grants have a good chance of receiving money the second time around, Mr. Tabolt said.

C&S representatives at past meetings have also suggested that additional work done over the past year, including a frequency study and application for new radio frequencies, should make for a much stronger application this year.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced last week that $75 million will be available in a third round of interoperability communications grants, with a maximum award of $6 million.

A late 2011 study of the county’s antiquated radio system identified many deficiencies, including spotty coverage in many areas and little interoperability between emergency agencies. It recommended an upgrade, estimated at $6.4 million to $11.6 million, but that was estimated for a VHF-based system with eight towers.

After further research and discussion, county leaders are now eyeing a higher-frequency UHF-based system that would include 10 or 11 towers — rather than the four now used — to ensure coverage in most parts of the county. Pagers would remain VHF-based.

To help move along the process, legislators also recently accepted a proposal from C&S to serve as project manager for up to $644,320, including the $40,000 in pre-design work that lawmakers approved last year.

The approved funding is to cover management and engineering services for all phases of the radio project, with a majority of the money to be spent only if the project moves forward, Mr. Tabolt said.

With the approval, C&S officials plan to begin conducting field work and pinpointing the optimal spots for emergency towers, he said.

Legislators over the past couple of years have set aside $1.2 million in an emergency radio system capital fund, but work likely will not progress unless significant grant funding is available to defray the bulk of the costs.

Jefferson County officials are also planning to seek communications grant funding for an estimated $15 million radio upgrade project in that county.

A meeting of representatives from both counties is to be held within the upcoming week to compare notes, Mr. Tabolt said.

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