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LOCKPORT – Construction on Niagara County’s new $10 million emergency radio system is under way.

Concrete bases for new antenna towers have been laid outside a former mattress factory in Newfane and outside the City of Lockport composting plant.

Still to come are towers at Terry’s Corners Fire Company in Royalton, North Tonawanda Fire Headquarters at Erie Avenue and Zimmerman Street, and at Upper Mountain Fire Company in Lewiston.

Legislator David E. Godfrey, R-Wilson, said last week that the plan by Motorola Systems, the company the county chose for design and construction, had planned to bring the system online in late 2014.

“I want to accelerate that by at least six months,” Godfrey said. “They’re talking next fall. I want that on the air in the spring. … They’re talking August for system testing. I’d like to move that back to April.”

Godfrey said that could be accomplished if the concrete for all five new towers is laid before the end of this year.

“The bases of them are massive concrete, and the bolts [supporting the steel towers] are part of the form. They have to cure for two or three weeks before you can do anything with them,” said Thomas C. Beatty, Sheriff’s Office chief deputy.

The county undertook the project in the face of a Federal Communications Commission mandate that its emergency voice and data transmissions take up less space on the broadcast spectrum, a process called “narrowbanding.”

One of the things that had to be determined was the height necessary for signals to bounce from one tower to the others. Motorola belatedly discovered that a smokestack at the Niagara Falls Praxair plant was right in the line of sight between the North Tonawanda tower and an existing antenna on the roof of Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center.

Beatty said the final decision on solving that was to increase the height of the North Tonawanda tower from 180 feet to 275 feet.

Because of the change at North Tonawanda, however, the heights of two other antennas had to be increased, Beatty said. The one at Terry’s Corners will be 195 feet, and the height of the Upper Mountain tower will be 215 feet. Both were originally supposed to be 180 feet.

The height of the Newfane tower will remain unchanged at 180 feet, while the one in Lockport was slated all along to be 280 feet, because it’s located in one of the city’s low-lying areas.

Meanwhile, new fiber-optic cable is being installed at the county dispatching center beside the County Jail, and upgraded radio transmitting gear is being placed on the roof at Niagara Falls Memorial, Godfrey said.

An old emergency generator, just replaced at the Philo J. Brooks County Office Building in Lockport, is being moved to North Tonawanda, where the backup dispatch center is to be installed in the basement of Fire Headquarters.

“We’re now looking at reconfiguring the basement at North Tonawanda,” Godfrey said.

All volunteer fire companies have received their new handheld and portable radios, which were part of the deal. However, the City of Lockport has been reluctant to participate, Godfrey said.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com