800 mega-hurts: County commissioners opposed to state-mandated towers

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Moffat County Commissioners are stuck between a rock and hard spot.

State mandates require the commissioners to approve a grant request for almost $1 million to fund the construction of two 800-megahertz radio towers. But none of the commissioners thought the grant was a good way for the state to spend its money.

The state mandated that all emergency responders must begin using 800-MHz radio equipment. The mandate's goal is to keep all emergency responders on the same radio frequency and avoid communication problems.

But the commissioners questioned whether the frequency is needed in Moffat County and expressed skepticism about how effective it would be here and in other mountainous regions.

"How are we going to work this? We're going to go out and build a million dollars of towers then decide if it works," Comm-issioner Darryl Steele said.

Moffat County Office of Emergency Management Direc-tor Larry Dalton said the state has indicated the system will work well here.

"Not having worked with 800 MHz in our environment, the anticipation is it's going to work as good if not better (than the current system)," Dalton said.

"I was hoping they would come out with some mobile towers and test this thing out," Steele said.

Steele worried the mandate could put emergency responders in a situation similar to the one in which Colorado social services offices are stuck.

Last year, the state ordered all social services offices to begin using a new computer system to calculate client benefits. But the system contained bugs that have decreased efficiency and still have not been fixed.

But Moffat County EMS Dire--c-tor Tom Soos said the new system would be a benefit to the ambulance service.

It should provide better coverage near Hamilton and from Rabbit Ears Pass to Denver; previously, EMS ambulances lost radio coverage after crossing Rabbit Ears.

"For us, it will be a really great thing," Soos said.

After discussion, Commission-er Saed Tayyara voted against the grant request in a token act of protest against the state mandate.

The state has given Moffat County $850,000, which was used to purchase the 800-MHz radios. If granted, the additional $1 million would be used to build towers at state approved locations on Lookout Mountain and Iles Mountain.

The state Department of Local Affairs has created a $13 million fund dedicated to financing 800-MHz implementation.

Commissioner Tom Gray questioned whether implementing the 800-MHz system state-wide was the best use of the state's money.

It would be better used to replace aging Road and Bridge Department equipment, Gray said.

"It just seems like a real demonstration of top-down centralized management and it's not necessarily what the local community wants," Gray said.

The county expects the 800- MHz system to be up and running by June 1.

But law-enforcement officials will need to keep the old VHF frequency radios in their cars so they can communicate with emergency officials in Wyoming and Utah, as well as the Bureau of Land Management and National Parks Service.

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