By Tom Grace
Otsego County's dual-goal project _ improving emergency communications and extending high-speed Internet service to the countryside _ took a step forward this week.
According to Rep. Michael Arcuri, D-Utica, a $400,000 grant to improve the county's emergency microwave communications system is included in the 2009 federal Omnibus Appropriations Act. The bill was approved by the House of Representatives on Wednesday and is expected to pass the Senate, according to Rep. James Powers, chairman of the Otsego County Board of Representatives.
``It's great news for us,'' he said Friday.
The money would be used to complete the tower project on Blend Hill near the Oneonta Municipal Airport.
A 157-foot tower is being erected to replace an older tower, an upgrade that should lead to improve communications with the city of Oneonta. The construction also shores up the county's emergency 911 dispatching system.
Eventually, the Blend Hill tower will be linked to a 180-mile-long fiber-optic ``backbone'' in the county, a conduit meant to hook up wired and wireless Internet users near its path.
After years of planning, the project is coming closer to fruition, and perhaps at just the right time, Powers said.
``There isn't a county in the state that's better prepared to take stimulus money. We'll take all we can get,'' he said.
In the last three years the county has done two studies on how best to upgrade its communications, and it has hired a telecommunications consultant, Kevin Karn of L. Robert Kimball Associates.
``If the federal government is looking for shovel-ready projects, we've got them,'' Powers said.
High on the list would be a line in the fiber-optic network linking the county's public safety and county office buildings, as well as other Internet users in the area.
Arcuri lauded the project for its potential to improve public safety.
``Since taking office, I have worked with officials from Otsego County and the city of Oneonta to expand 911 capabilities and make sure local businesses and families are safe and secure," he wrote in an e-mail to The Daily Star.
``Because of the unique geography of hills and valleys here in Otsego County it is necessary to implement special strategies to allow inter-operability so that law enforcement agencies can communicate with each other," the e-mail continued. "This is an example of taxpayer money coming back to invest in safety and economic development right here in Otsego County.''