Highland Supervisors Discuss Emergency Communications

Communications became strained, over strained communications, at this month’s Highland Board of Supervisors regular meeting.

Monterey Fire Chief Elmer Waybright appeared before the Board representing the Highland Volunteer Fire Department, to speak about poor communication conditions faced by responders. He referenced an incident just over a month ago, less than two miles from Monterey, where radios were not working, and said a solution needed to be found. He also referenced a meeting he had participated in, which occurred, at least two years ago by his recollection, where he made a statement that, given past history, the solutions suggested at this meeting would not work. He noted this was because of a specific person involved, but did not name names. He said a lot of money had been spent with no improvements.

Mr. Waybright then asked about whether there was a deed for a piece of property on Lantz Mountain. County Attorney Melissa Dowd responded that she was still in communication with the landowners, and would not speak about the details in open session, without those being present at the meeting.  Mr. Waybright expressed confusion, saying he had been in contact with the landowners, who had expressed confusion on progress as well. He repeated the question to both Ms. Dowd and the Board several times, and the answer was repeated that this was not a matter for open session, due to the nature of negotiations. Board Chair David Blanchard did thank Mr. Waybright for bringing attention on the matter to the forefront, and Mr. Waybright promised he would keep the pressure on for progress.

During this week’s work session, the Supervisors asked Ronald Wimer, of the LEPC Communications Committee, to provide clarity on the situation with an update. He reported that consultant AECOM had finished an assessment of needs in 2013. Since then, a suitable site for locating a tower had been found in the western portion of the county, which had been surveyed and a plat created in the end of 2015. Since then, progress had been made creating a deed of easement – Ms. Dowd noted that the possibility of a lease agreement had been discussed as well, but the landowners were more comfortable with an easement. Mr. Wimer noted that a draft easement for the property had been created, and that while the land discussions were underway, he had also moved forward on licensing requirements, and that all licenses and frequencies had been approved in July of 2016. In order not to lose this approval, there must be build out on the site within a year, meaning July 2017. While a full tower is the final goal, he questioned whether site work could be fully completed by that time, and said a potential workaround was prepping the site, including roadway, electrical and phone lines, and installing communications and equipment on poles – the full antenna, along with a small building on a concrete pad, could be installed at a later date. He stressed the need for taking action of some kind before the deadline because he did not want to re-apply for the licenses and frequencies, because the wait time for approval could be lengthy, due to frequencies being in short supply.

The meeting ended with a closed session for presentation of the legal documents and plat to the Board.

Story By

Scott Smith

Scott Smith is the General Manager for Allegheny Mountain Radio and Station Coordinator and News Reporter for WVLS. Scott’s family has deep roots in Highland County. While he did not grow up here, he spent as much time as possible on the family farm, and eventually moved to Highland to continue the tradition, which he still pursues with his cousin. Unfortunately, farming doesn’t pay all the bills, so he has previously taken other jobs to support his farming hobby, including pressman/writer for The Recorder, and Ag Projects Coordinator for The Highland Center. He lives in Hightown with wife Michelle and son Ethan. In his spare time, he wishes he had more spare time, especially to ride his prized Harley-Davidson motorcycle. scott@amrmail.org

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