Wednesday, September 16, 2009

County eyes call boxes near Galena Summit


By TONY EVANS
Express Staff Writer

Motorists, cyclists and backcountry enthusiasts who frequent the area around Galena Summit in northern Blaine County may soon have access to roadside emergency call boxes to summon help in case of an emergency.

Blaine County officials, in cooperation with the Idaho Transportation Department, are exploring the feasibility of installing several emergency call boxes on Highway 75 in the mountainous north county. The county also hopes to build an emergency services communication tower in the Galena Summit area.

Early this month, Sawtooth National Forest Supervisor Jane Kollmeyer denied an application by Hailey-based Idaho Tower Co. to build a 90-foot cell tower on Galena Summit.

"We still have a need for emergency communication services on Galena Summit and into the Stanley Basin," said Blaine County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Gene Ramsey.

The tower would have increased cell phone coverage in the area, allowing cell phone users to contact emergency dispatch in Hailey. It also would have provided a location for an emergency services personnel radio transmitter.

Kollmeyer denied the permit due to its visual impacts in an area popular with backcountry enthusiasts.

County officials were hoping to install a 700 MHz emergency communications device on the proposed tower. It would have expanded Blaine County's emergency communications up to and across Galena Summit into Custer County.

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"Emergency call boxes on Highway 75 would allow someone to contact dispatch directly," said Blaine County Operations Director Char Nelson, who is researching federal grants to pay for the call boxes.

Julie Thomas, public affairs director for the SNRA, said county officials would have to decide whether to connect the call boxes to the county's emergency dispatch service or to the Idaho State Police.

To expand radio coverage for emergency services personnel in the Galena area, Blaine County officials also hope to install an emergency communication tower of their own at an already developed microwave communication site near Galena Summit.

Ramsey said the likely site is about 350 yards down the ridge from the previously proposed cell tower site.

Nelson said Blaine County has already installed three other such transmitters, on Bald Mountain, Dollar Mountain and in Picabo, with a $1.3 million federal grant.

"Our engineering plan calls for a fourth location in the Galena Summit area. It would provide emergency communications on both sides of the summit," she said.

Tony Evans: tevans@mtexpress.com




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