Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV


November 24, 2013

Elgood tower: Wireless network must be finished

— — Mercer County was on the verge of achieving full coverage for its wireless emergency services network earlier this year when a legislative audit scuttled the construction of an emergency communications tower in the Elgood area and sent local emergency services personnel back to the drawing board in search of new funding sources to complete this important project.

That’s unfortunate, and another example of how red tape can slow down vital projects. Given the region’s mountainous topography, the completion of the county’s emergency services wireless communications network has been challenging enough. Having the project stopped because of a legislative audit is an added frustration. The work has been brought to a standstill, according to Bobby Hoge, director of the Mercer County 911 Center.

“They were trying to finish building the tower, but the audit report brought everything to a standstill,” Hoge said last week. “Right now, we’re having to go back out and advertise for bids and start the process over again. If it all goes well, we’ll be right in the middle of the winter when we can start working on the project again. That’s if we can obtain funding for the project.”

Hoge says that the SIREN system enables the 911 center located on Crumpecker Hill in Green Valley to communicate with units in the field. He said that the Elgood area “is still one of the dark spots” in the county.

It is imperative that construction on this emergency services upgrade continue. The Elgood tower will serve the Elgood, Oakvale and Lovern communities in Mercer County, and will also serve portions of Monroe and Summers counties that are not currently connected with the Statewide Interoperability Radio Network, also known as SIRN.

The legislative audit in question found that the method being used to award the contracts to erect towers in the SIRN program circumvented the appropriate procedure for contracts of $25,000 and above. SIRN program administrators awarded several tower projects to a Jane Lew-based contractor, Premier Construction Group LLC, that was the apparent low bidder for a contract awarded to erect a tower in Lewis County. The audit found that the practice of “piggybacking” the Lewis County bid to apply to other towers did not comply with state bidding rules.

The federal funds for the project came from the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009, along with additional state lottery funds. Among the corrective recommendations that the legislative audit made was the suggestion that the State Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety assume direction of the SIRN program.

Lawrence Messina, spokesman for the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, says the department “is mindful of the audit,” and is approaching each project accordingly. He adds the state is committed to completing the project, and is dedicated to helping the first responders who utilize the system. However, Messina says the immediate challenge is finding the necessary funds to complete the job.

We would urge state officials to expedite the funding search so that this emergency tower can be constructed — as originally planned — for the Elgood community. For the sake of our emergency responders — and those citizens in Mercer County who depend upon a prompt response from police, fire and rescue crews when an emergency occurs — we can’t let this project be stalled as a result of red tape.

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