Communications project: "Fleeting moments of optimism"
Jean Koelz | Staff writer
BURNETT COUNTY – At the Thursday, March 6, public safety committee meeting, Burnett County’s emergency management director Rhonda Reynolds summed up recent progress on the county’s delayed upgrade to narrowband by reporting, “I’ve had fleeting moments of optimism.” From anyone else, such a comment might seem cautionary. However, coming from a person who makes contingency plans for accidents and natural disasters, this level of positive thinking approaches celebration.
The nine-tower system designed to house the county’s updated emergency response communications equipment has been plagued by delays. The FCC mandated that all 25 kHz radio systems migrate to 12.5 MHz channels by Jan. 1, 2013. Burnett County received a one-year extension until Jan. 1, 2014, then applied for another extension more recently. Extreme winter weather has been just one in a long series of setbacks.
It seems that every tower in the proposed network has posed its own set of challenges, but two particular towers became a big enough problem that the vendor contracts had to be written without them so work could begin on the other seven sites. At Webb Lake, where AT&T sold its tower to ATC, the new owners didn’t feel bound by pre-existing agreements with the county and were unresponsive to the county’s attempt to resolve the issues.
“We’ve seen some progress,” Reynolds told county supervisors. “There’s a new person over there (at ATC) who’s extremely apologetic. A co-location agreement is on the way.”
The other holdup was with the tower at Rooney Lake, owned by Verizon. This location is something of a system linchpin because it doubles as a booster signal for the other sites. A question arose about the tower’s structural capacity to accommodate the new equipment, and answers have not been forthcoming. Stating that it’s what she hoped for, Reynolds told supervisors, “The flow of information between all parties is in progress.” If a deal isn’t reached soon, the county will have to look at either negotiating with other parties or building a whole new tower.
Due to prior miscommunication with the St. Croix Tribe regarding plans for the towers in Danbury and Hertel, additional meetings to share information and obtain proper approvals were scheduled. Now Reynolds is optimistic about them as well. “We are poised for quick movement at Danbury upon spring thaw,” Reynolds said. “And Hertel looks good, too.”
Reynolds has other reasons to be hopeful. “The propane situation seems to be lessening,” Reynolds said. Citing increased supply, Reynolds said that costs are coming down and the weekly emergency managers conference calls have been suspended.
Additionally, Reynolds reported that she’s been able to complete several scheduled training sessions, kick off the dispatch center redesign project and obtain a $6,500 grant for airport training. In addition, Reynolds is hosting a Skywarn weather-training seminar on Monday, April 28, at 7 p.m. at the government center. Anyone wishing to join the nearly 300,000 volunteers who serve as weather spotters for the National Weather Service can attend this free two-hour training session.
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