Supervisors hear report on proposals to replace radio system; cost and coverage are concerns

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Supervisor Keith Guzy (Dist. 1) and Chairman Morgan Phenix listen to a presentation on proposals for a $9.5 million new radio system upgrade and maintenance agreement.

By Randy Arrington

LURAY, Jan. 21 — Since establishing the need to replace the county’s aging and inefficient radio system through a Critical Needs Assessment in 2017, the county has struggled to find the best system to solve the problem of “blind spots” in emergency communications.

Cheryl Giggetts, a principal consultant with CTA, walked the members of the Page County Board of Supervisors through the steps that have been taken over the past few months. The Lynchburg-based consulting firm led the county through the procurement process and evaluated two bids received from Motorola and L3Harris to replace the county’s radio system.

Giggetts noted that the surrounding mountains create challenges for meeting the 95-percent coverage that is being mandated, and some portions of the proposals mention only attaining 68 to 89 percent coverage for Page.

“That’s not going to work,” supervisor Keith Guzy (Dist. 1) told the consultant. “Is that alarming to you?”

Several supervisors baulked at the idea of accepting anything less than 95 percent coverage, but it may be too late to put the project out to bid a third time in order to meet proposed deadlines. The board asked its consultant to readdress coverage with the bidding vendors.

CTA recommended that the board accept Motorola’s bid of $9.75 million, over L3Harris’ $9.95 million bid. The supervisors plan to gather input from users in emergency services from across the county before making any final decisions. Guzy went as far as to state he wanted letters of recommendation from each of the agencies involved.

In December of 2018, the supervisors approved a $5.4 million agreement with Motorola for the radio system upgrade, only to rescind it the following February. That proposal called for a shared system with Shenandoah County. However, according to County Administrator Amity Moler, when Page officials met with Shenandoah County officials to discuss the project, they learned that no “shared” system had been proposed to them — and so the project stalled. When Shenandoah County backed out of any further talks, Page officials put the project out to bid again.

Now, current proposals call for a shared system with Rockingham County, and the construction of potentially four towers to relay signals. Another obstacle for the project is in the location of those towers, and negotiations with land owners to secure those sites. 

Giggetts also noted during her presentation that any effort to locate towers on federal land — which border Page County on the east and west — could be a lengthy process that would most likely end in denial.

The much higher cost associated with the current $10 million bids are due to the inclusion of an additional tower site and projected maintenance costs for 15 years. The previous $5.4 million bid in December 2018 was only for the new system.

Supervisors earmarked $397,000 in the current budget to cover the first phase of the radio replacement project. Giggetts said the entire project would take two years to implement.

CTA worked with vendors on details and questions related to their proposals from August through December. The consulting firm will now guide the county through the construction phase including design, inspections and testing. 

County officials plan to start meeting with various agencies that use the radio system this week. The board of supervisors are expected to make a final decision in February or March.

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