County scores key FEMA grant for emergency radio equipmentThe taxpayers of Carlton County received something of a windfall this week. At Monday’s adjourned session of the Carlton County Board, Sheriff Kelly Lake informed commissioners that the county has been awarded a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) “Assistance to Firefighters” grant in the amount of $684,585.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
The taxpayers of Carlton County received something of a windfall this week.
At Monday’s adjourned session of the Carlton County Board, Sheriff Kelly Lake informed commissioners that the county has been awarded a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) “Assistance to Firefighters” grant in the amount of $684,585. The grant will help fund the purchase of radio equipment required for the mandated upgrade to the state’s new Allied Radio Matrix for Emergency Response (ARMER) narrow-band operating system.
The move comes, in part, in the face of a rapidly increasing demand for radio frequencies due to the prevalence of cell phones and other personal communications devices. The narrower band width will accommodate more information while at the same time take up less radio spectrum.
ARMER is a digital trunked system operating at 800 MHz that would provide 99 percent coverage of the county via stationary and mobile communication devices and allow users to communicate seamlessly with each other as well as agencies throughout the state and country.
Lake explained the county’s current VHF system has a significant number of “dead” zones that sometimes make connectivity difficult if not impossible. Conversion to the ARMER system would improve radio coverage and reliability, provide additional channels, and increase interoperability between agencies.
Lake said the Federal Communications Commission mandated a couple of years ago that current wide-band radio systems must be narrowband-compliant by Jan. 1, 2013. At that time, the county board agreed to bond for the funds if necessary to purchase the required radio equipment, with the caveat that every effort must first be made to seek grant money to cover part or all of the costs.
Since then, Lake said grant money has been secured through the state and other sources to fund the purchase of 19 portable radios for the Cloquet Police Department, six for the Moose Lake Police Department and 16 for the Fond du Lac Police Department.
This latest round of FEMA grant funding, however, will cover the lion’s share of the purchase of mobile radios for all of the county’s fire departments and first responders, as well as portable radios for all personnel and a base station for each of the fire departments as well.
“All of the departments are extremely happy with that,” said Lake.
She explained the same grant had been applied for last year but the effort proved unsuccessful. In September 2011, Lake, along with the county’s economic development department and the Carlton County fire chiefs – with Chief Steve Bridge of the Cromwell Fire Department serving as host applicant and fiscal agent – decided to apply for the grant once again, this time with a positive result.
“This will mean that much less will have to come out of the pockets of the taxpayers,” said Lake.
The grant does require a 10 percent match from the county on the overall project costs.
Lake said the county is expecting to “flip the switch” on its newly upgraded communications system in fall 2012, well ahead of the state-mandated compliance date of January 2013.
In a related move, the board approved a resolution to enter into an agreement with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), who will act as owner/operator for the state’s new ARMER system. Lake said the participation plan between the county and MnDOT will set standards of operation and lay out the ground rules of usage and responsibilities.
Further, commissioners approved the sale of approximately three acres of tax-forfeited land in Silver Brook Township to MnDOT for the installation of the ARMER communications tower.
In other business to come before the county board on Monday, commissioners unanimously approved the appointment of Peter Gould as information technology director for the county. Gould previously served the county as a technical support specialist.
The board approved an increase in the cabin lease rate for leases on county-owned lands. Land Commissioner Greg Bernu explained that the cost of the leases is normally adjusted every three years, with the latest adjustment due this year. The board agreed to increase the cost of each lease from $250 to $275, explaining that such a lease entitles the leaseholder to place a cabin and one outbuilding on the land with the understanding they are leasing only the land the buildings stand on and nothing beyond that.
A public hearing was held to consider the final terms of an agreement for the county to exchange certain parcels of tax-forfeited land owned within the Fond du Lac Reservation for a roughly equal parcel of land in Clear Creek Township owned by the reservation. Bernu explained that titles to all of the parcels have been examined and found to be good, and the appraisals of the land involved have been completed. Bernu said the primary difference is the fact that the county-owned land on the reservation is mostly low land, while much of the Clear Creek parcel is higher ground. He said the goal of the reservation is to continue to rebuild its land base through the exchange, and the county hopes to harvest timber and maintain public recreational use of the land in Clear Creek Township. He further clarified that any tax-forfeited lands within the reservation with current cabin leases on them have not been included in this exchange.
A final timber evaluation must now be conducted on the land before the proposal is forwarded to the Minnesota State Land Exchange Board for final approval.