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On Second Throught

Hidden in the fine print of New Yorks titanic $121 billion budget is a $1 million earmark to help bring long awaited cellular coverage to the Adirondack Northway. This is definitely welcome news. Now, like the lyrics made famous by country music singer Toby Keith what we need is a little less talk and a lot more action. The question is, will $1 million be enough to offset the cost of the design and permitting of a cell plan that would provide coverage from Exit 26 to Exit 35? I posed that question to representatives of the four cellular top guns of the region Cingular, Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile. All said the states commitment will help take the sting out of the permitting process. But each admitted that other complications certainly remain. Perhaps most importantly, cellular providers said the windfall will likely not speed the process up leaving the door open to another devastating sequence of events like those that unfolded last winter. Thats when two accidents between exits 29 and 32 an area notorious for being particularly desolate and accident prone left drivers dead while their wives tried frantically to summon help on cell phones in an area with no cell coverage. Sen. Betty Little proposed a temporary solution placing three mobile towers in rest areas in the now notorious dead zones. That system could have been operational as early as this summer. But our newly elected gov. Eliot Spitzer effectively killed that idea when he said the mobile towers must be considered a permanent use under Adirondack Park rules meaning the proposal would be just as time intensive as a permanent solution. Once again, were placing grand vistas above human life. Spitzer did give us a conciliation, in the form of the $1 million. If you think about it, its kind of disheartening that we would even need to supplement this private venture with tax dollars. Especially when the cellular providers say its financially viable if it werent for bureaucrats and environmentalists standing in the way. A spokesman for Verizon told me they are close to submitting a plan that would site 9 towers in the 50-mile dead zone from Exit 26 to 32. They may not even need the state subsidy depending on the intensity of the permitting process and the inevitable litigation that will likely follow. Take the notorious Frankenpine a 105-foot cell tower Sprint Nextel disguised as a pine tree in the southern basin of Lake George. Shortly after the APA approved the application (APA staff had recommended it be denied, by the way), the Adirondack Council sued, claiming the APA failed to uphold provisions of state law designed to protect the wilderness. Even though Sprint Nextel spent nearly four times the amount that a traditional cell tower would cost trying to make the environmental community happy. While the suit was eventually tossed out on a technicality, it did add several months and considerable cost to the permitting process. When the smoke cleared, the environmentalists still claimed victory, saying that the tower was so costly to install, it no doubt would strike fear in those thinking of similar projects. And you know what? They were totally correct in that assumption. Shortly after the suit was dismissed, the Adirondack Councils John Sheehan was quoted as saying This is the most expensive Frankenpine ever constructed, and it is unlikely that any company will ever want to spend a similar amount again. Still wondering why we have no cell coverage in the Adirondacks? It may not be as politically correct to stand in the way this time around, especially after the tragic deaths that occurred last winter. But the environmentalists are already gearing for war denouncing towers that dont meet the APAs rule of substantially invisible and those taller than 42-feet. Even though cellular providers say they need taller towers to make a system work properly. Even though the 42-foot height restrictions were put in place long before cellular technology came on the scene. Environmental groups are instead still trying to resurrect a costly plan that would have placed dozens of shorter, 38-foot towers in the corridor. Once again, cellular experts say it would not work and is cost prohibitive. They also advocate the use of satellite phones though that technology is 10 to 15 years away. They say cell towers may soon be obsolete, and will soon need to be removed, so why build them now. They say ... Sound complicated? Its meant to be and its precisely why a workable solution to our cellular woes on the Northway is still years away. John Gereau is managing editor of Denton Publications. He can be reached at johng@denpubs.com

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