MONROE - Installation of Monroe County's $8.9 million emergency radio system, delayed because of a laborious permit process, is set for an early 2005 completion after the county received a grant extension from the federal government.
About $6 million of the system's cost is being covered by a homeland security grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The grant expired last week. But county officials, recognizing months ago the project would not be completed on time, got an extension from FEMA, said grant coordinator Sgt. David Thompson of the Monroe County Sheriff's Office.
Originally, authorities expected the project to be completed this fall. But a series of environmental assessments was delayed about three months, setting the project behind.
"Things were moving along really good at the beginning," said N. Randy Ansel, chairman of the county board of commissioners' physical resources committee. "But in a project of this size, there are all kinds of things that could have gone against us. I'm very happy the way things are going."
Sergeant Thompson said the project is on track for a March completion. The system's three new radio towers - on Brandon Road in Berlin Township, on Dunbar Road near the new county jail, and on Clark Road in Whiteford Township - are nearly done.
The towers, each of which includes state-of-the-art transmission equipment, will tie in to the state's tower on North Custer Road, connecting the county to the state's emergency radio system. The new system will allow the county's law enforcement agencies and firefighters to talk with other authorities on the spot during emergency situations.
The system includes an upgrade of the county's VHS paging system, which will be a boon to firefighters, Sergeant Thompson said.
The county will conduct tests through December on the new towers to make sure they are in working order. Once that is completed, the county will install radios in more than 300 vehicles as it prepares to shift to the new system, Sergeant Thompson said. That process will be completed by the end of February, a month before the new deadline set by FEMA.
"That will give us a month to prepare all the final reports," he said.
The project has had other snags. The county had hoped to cover the remaining $2.9 million through a phone line surcharge, but the measure was defeated soundly by voters in the spring primary. That left the county on the hook for the money.
The primary defeat also left the county's townships on the hook for part of the cost of the new radios and the annual renewal of radio fees - money they say they don't have.
Still, Sergeant Thompson and Mr. Ansel said, the system will be worth it.
"It's going to be beneficial to everybody," Sergeant Thompson said.
Mr. Ansel said the system had been discussed for 10 years.
"I have to give the commission credit for making it happen," he said.
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