ELIZABETHTOWN - Essex County supervisors' concerns over a bird study they saw as a hinderance to their public safety communication project have been alleviated.
The state Adirondack Park Agency had included in the December 2012 permit it gave the project, which would install 14 radio communication towers on peaks around the area, a condition that the county must hire an independent environmental specialist to study the mating habits of a rare bird species before being able to build on four of the peaks during the birds' mating season, May 15 to Aug. 1. The main peak of concern from previous studies was Little Whiteface in Wilmington.
If the county didn't do the study, it wasn't going to be able to perform loud construction activities on Little Whiteface during that time period because it could interrupt the mating activities of the Bicknell's thrush, a protected species that only mates above elevations of 2,800 feet.
The county wasn't allowed to start the work before the mating season because the APA, state Department of Environmental Conservation and Olympic Regional Development Authority were working on an amendment to the unit management plan for the Whiteface Mountain Intensive Use Area. The amendment is expected to go before the APA at its May meeting.
Supervisors at a Monday meeting complained that the requirement would likely delay construction on the project.
But since then, things have changed significantly.
County Chairman Randy Douglas, of Jay, said county, APA and DEC officials, as well as representatives from Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office, have had many meetings and conference calls since the county's Monday meeting.
"I cannot tell you how many phone calls and phone conferences I've been in since Monday," Douglas said. "It's been very time-consuming."
But it all paid off, and on Thursday afternoon, the county came to an agreement with the various state entities.
The state is lifting the ban on construction until the UMP amendment is approved, and Douglas told county Manager Dan Palmer to give the go-ahead to contractors today.
"We do have permission to start work immediately," Douglas said. "Things are moving along very rapidly now."
County supervisors were also concerned about the cost of the study, but APA spokesman Keith McKeever said the DEC agreed to conduct the study and prepare the report for the county.
APA Executive Director Terry Martino sent a letter to Douglas Thursday assuring him that the project is clear to move ahead immediately.
"We understand that this is a critical component of the Essex County's emergency network," Martino wrote. "The State puts the safety of its people above all else."
Douglas said he is proud of how the APA, DEC and county worked together to work out the problem.
"I cannot say enough about the APA and DEC, how they took this and worked with us diligently," Douglas said.
Cuomo was in Jay after Tropical Storm Irene created problems with the county's emergency communications two years ago and assured Douglas then that radio communications in the county would be a top priority. Douglas said Cuomo's office reaffirmed that assurance this week.
"The governor has informed us that he will be playing a very, very active roll in the process if this goes further," Douglas said. "I can't say enough about Gov. Cuomo for his assistance."
Douglas said the project has to take priority so the county can be prepared for the next time disaster strikes, "because we tend to get them quite frequently in Essex County."
Meanwhile, Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava commented on the topic Thursday night on the Enterprise's Facebook page:
"Like a Hitchcock movie!" he wrote. "Forget that the towers are being built for emergency service communications and will save many lives......this bird goes to the top of mountains because it is the bully of the bird world, it can't get along with other birds! Lot of peaks in the Adirondacks with no development, I am sure that they will find a place to nest and do whatever."
Contact Jessica Collier at 518-891-2600 ext. 26 or firstname.lastname@example.org.