Narrow-band upgrade won’t be ready till April

Published 6:07 pm Friday, November 16, 2012

The Decatur County Board of Commissioners learned Tuesday that the county’s mandatory upgrade to narrow-band communications likely won’t be completed until April 2013, well after the federally-mandated deadline of Jan. 1, 2013.

During the board’s regular meeting Tuesday, E-911 Director Tonya Griffin said that the county would file a waiver of extension, and expected to be granted that extension by the federal government.

“In my mind, we’re justified to get a waiver, especially when you look at some governments that haven’t really even gotten started yet,” Griffin said.

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The federal government is requiring all public-safety radio stations to change from the current “broadband” wavelength to a “narrow-band” frequency, in order to free up other portions of the communications spectrum. The estimated cost of the project is $1.48 million for Decatur County, $252,000 for the City of Bainbridge, and $326,000 for the Decatur County Board of Education.
Bill Gardiner, a Motorola employee who is serving as the project manager, explained the reasons for the delays, during Tuesday’s meeting.

Gardiner said the main delay in the project stems from a problem at the communications tower on Spring Creek Road, which was built more than 10 years ago. Gardiner said there were no construction drawings available for the tower, and so new ones had to be created from scratch.

“We have to go out and do a study to make sure that any towers can withstand the extra weight for our antennas and other equipment,” Gardiner said. “Unfortunately, we had none of the drawings available to us, so we had to record the size of the steel wires, the size of each bolt, and everything else. Then we can use that information to create a computer model, and use that model to perform the structural analysis.”

Gardiner said that structural analysis would likely show that additional remediation work must first be completed on the tower. He estimated that remediation would take at least six weeks, and force the county well beyond the initial Jan. 1, 2013, deadline. It will also likely cost at least another $100,000 beyond the original price of the project, he said.

Gardiner also pointed out that the Spring Creek Road tower should have had a structural analysis done previously, when the county installed additional equipment for the Main Street Broadband project.

“The real unfortunate part here is that the wireless broadband equipment went on that tower, without a study being done,” he said. “You were really putting a lot of people at risk, not knowing if the tower could hold that equipment.”

Commissioner Dr. Earl Perry said he was not the least surprised that there were no construction drawings available of the tower, even though a similar tower in Grady County had plenty of drawings for viewing.

“This isn’t the first time something like this has happened,” he said. “There have been many times in this county’s history where we don’t have records to support something that was done, or should have been done.”

Gardiner also provided an updated timeline concerning the project. Most of the towers’ new antennas and lines will be installed by January, except for the Spring Creek Road tower site. The Spring Creek Road tower’s remediation should be completed in January, and the antennas and lines installed shortly afterwards.

Gardiner said the plan is to “cut over” the system on April 12, 2013.

“That’s probably the most pessimistic time, but it’s likely we could get everything finished before then,” he said.