LEWISTON – Despite an ongoing legal fight with the Town of Lewiston and disgruntled residents, Niagara County will go forward next week with plans to “power up” the emergency radio system.
The test, planned for Monday, is the first step toward going live with a new county-wide emergency system, ultimately scheduled for June 30.
Niagara County Legislator David Godfrey, who has spearheaded the project, said all of the seven sites (five new towers and two existing sites) are complete, including the 220-foot tower in Lewiston at the Upper Mountain Road Fire Department and at the North Tonawanda Fire Department, which were the last to be finished.
“They are literally going to turn on the network ... for the first time to start making sure each tower is talking to the next tower and the microwaves are properly working,” said Godfrey.
He said in May and June they will be training all police and fire agencies on operating the new radios and train dispatchers on the new consoles. Near the end of June all new radios will be programmed into the system with a target date to go fully operational on June 30.
Residents and town leaders in Lewiston have fought the construction of the Lewiston tower – not the system itself – since it went up literally in the backyards of some Upper Mountain Road residents’ homes last July.
Niagara County quashed challenges to the tower by declaring itself the lead agency on the $10 million federally-mandated program to improve radio communications.
A lawsuit was filed in November to halt the project by the Town of Lewiston and five homeowners who say the tower was illegally constructed. Some residents are concerned about safetywith the tower as close to 60 feet to one residence; the zoning ordinance mandates 500 feet from a residence.
A stop work order from the court temporarily halted work, but State Supreme Court Justice Mark A. Montour vacated the order on Feb. 6 after hearing testimony from the complainants.
But the lawsuit regarding the legality of the tower is still being heard in court.
Town of Lewiston Attorney Mark C. Davis said they are still arguing that the tower is illegal. “We insist that there are other places in Lewiston, more appropriate spots – legal spots, where the tower should be located,” said Davis.
Godfrey said it would be an expensive proposition to move the tower and would likely cost taxpayers millions, much more than the original cost to build the tower. He said they did look at multiple locations and found the site at Upper Mountain the “optimal location” to cover the gorge.
“There’s sites in Lewiston where police and fire go that they have absolutely no radio coverage,” said Godfrey.
He said the system is configured for all law enforcement agencies to work together and communicate, a federal mandate that was the result of Sept. 11 attacks of 2001.
He said the new system will stop dead zone problems – where an officer or firefighter is unable to be heard inside a building or in spots like the Niagara River Gorge, and allow all agencies and volunteer firefighters to work together.
“The beauty of the plan is for everyone to be able to talk to everyone else,” said Godfrey.