|Trinity Standard - Local News
Copyright 2011 - Polk County Publishing Company
VFDs given satellite phones
Trinity Standard -
GROVETON – A hole in emergency communications uncovered by two major wildfires will be filled using satellite telephones under a plan approved Monday by Trinity County Commissioners. During their meeting in Groveton, commissioners authorized the county to lease nine of the special telephones and to provide one to the chiefs of the county’s six fire departments, as well as to the county judge, sheriff and the emergency command center. Unlike cell phones, which use ground-based towers, satellite phones bounce their communication signals off satellites located in Earth orbit. Trees, hills and other obstructions do not affect them. Carl Dyer, the county’s emergency management coordinator, told commissioners the phones were needed to fill the gap between cell phone and radio communications. During the recent Bearing and Truck Flip wildfires, Dyer said local, state and federal fire fighters had major problems communicating with one another. He noted cell phones don’t work in some areas of the county and radios quickly become overloaded due to the number of firefighters on the scene. “I wasn’t here for the Bearing Fire but I was for the one that happened off (FM) 355. At any given hour, you might have 250 firefighters out there. You can just imagine what the radios sounded like,” he told commissioners. Under the plan Dyer outlined, the satellite phones would be issued to the fire chiefs so they and the emergency command center can talk to each other without interference. The county judge, who has the ultimate responsibility for emergency management, and the county sheriff would be included in the loop Dyer said he checked with various satellite phone providers and by far the best deal was being offered by Patterson Communications. Their cost would include a $50 per phone set up fee and $5 per month per phone. Noting that because Patterson’s fee was substantially lower than every other company he contacted, Dyer said he was initially concerned they might not be able to provide adequate service. “I contacted the PUC (Public Utility Commission) and receive a lot of assurance from them,” he told the commissioners. His investigation indicated that the “great deal” being offered to the county was due to Patterson’s hope to “break into” the East Texas market. Dyer told commissioners the company hoped to market their satellite phones to others in the Deep East Texas Council of Government’s region and that the Trinity County set up would allow the company to demonstrate their product. Under the $5 per month fee, each telephone would be authorized 300 minutes per month and would be charged 20 cents per minute for any time over that amount. Dyer noted the minutes would not “roll over” and that he has already informed the fire chiefs that their departments would be required to pay for any usage over the 300 minutes. During the Bearing Fire in June, about 23,000 acres were destroyed and commissioners noted that each of the fire departments probably could have quickly used up their 300 minutes – or five hours – of talk time. That fire is now listed as the largest in East Texas history. “If the judge declares an emergency, the minutes go on hold,” Dyer told them, indicating use of the phones would then be unlimited. Dyer noted that while the satellite phones would have been a great benefit during the recent wildfires, he warned commissioners that forest officials are predicting that next year’s wildfire danger could be “double or triple” that of 2011. “They are saying its going to not only get worse, but a lot worse, than it was this past summer,” Dyer said. Plat changes approved In other action Monday, commissioners approved changes to an undeveloped section of the Trinity Plantation subdivision located south of Trinity. Under the changes approved, the developer will be combining a number of small lots into larger lots of one to 2.5 acres in size. The lots will be large enough to allow the buyers to install their own water wells and septic systems, Last month the plan was presented to commissioners who expressed concern about the quality of ground water in that area. County Attorney Joe W. Bell, who resides in that area of the county, noted that a number of water wells have encountered water containing sulphur. During a public hearing held Monday on the proposed change in the plat, Renee Howes presented a hydrologist’s report on the water. Howes, who represents the Arizona company currently developing the property, noted the hydrologist confirmed that adequate water was available. He noted one well drilled in that area reported “slight sulphur” at a depth of 360 feet below ground level but that other, shallower wells found none. The reported noted that property owners would have inexpensive treatment options available should their wells encounter sulphur. In addition to approving the changes to the Trinity Plantation plat, commissioners also approved changes to the Woodland Ranch development, which adjoins Trinity Plantation and is being developed by the same Arizona company. Again, the developer was seeking to combine small lots into 11` larger ones ranging in size from seven to 25 acres. The Woodland Ranch property is located along Old Highway 19 and Ben Blair Road. Other action During the meeting commissioners also: • Authorized County Treasurer Jo Bitner-Bartee to borrow up to $100,000 to complete payments under the fiscal year 2011 budget, which ended on Sept. 30. The county already had borrowed $310,000 to meet its end of budget obligations. The treasurer said she is not yet sure how much more would actually be needed, but said it would be less than the $100,000 authorized. • Approved the appointment of Mark Moscinski as a Precinct 1 deputy constable. • Voted to repost request for bids on energy conservation projects for the county jail and Rock Building on the courthouse square. Trinity County Judge Doug Page said the county has $57,500 in grant funds available for the work, which will include replacing aging air conditioners and fluorescent light fixtures as well as installing additional insulation. • Approved a $42,600 bid from Spectrum Coatings of Latexo to perform water system improvements for the Woodlake-Josserand Water Supply Corporation. The county obtained a grant on behalf of the water system for the improvements and the selection of Spectrum was based on a recommendation of the project’s engineers. • Discussed but took no action on a tobacco free policy for all county facilities, property and vehicles. The current policy prohibits use of tobacco inside county buildings, but Page asked commissioners if they wanted to include county property and vehicles in the ban. Commissioners indicated they wanted to designate smoking areas outside county building for employees and suggested they meet with department heads and employees to discuss the matter.