Unicoi County in for emergency communications upgrade

Sue Guinn Legg • Oct 28, 2019 at 10:22 PM

The Unicoi County Commission voted unanimously Monday to advertise requests for bids for equipment for two of three new emergency communication towers to be constructed in the southern, central and northern sections of the county.

Commissioner Todd Wilcox is an Erwin police officer and chairman of the commission’s Public Safety Committee. He said the bids, which will go out this week, are for communications towers in the Flag Pond and Martin’s Creek areas.

Wilcox said the repeater at Martins Creek will serve the county’s emergency medical service providers in place of the fire department frequency that is no longer available for EMS communications. 

Because of its use by the ambulance service, Wilcox has proposed the new equipment at Martin’s Creek be paid for with money remaining from the sale of the former Unicoi County Memorial Hospital.

Wilcox said the new tower at Flag Pond will correct communications issues law enforcement officers experience in that area. While a source of funding for the Flag Pond tower has not yet been determined, Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely said some state funding may be available because the tower will serve the new state park at Rocky Fork.

Evely said he expects to have word from the state on any possible funding for the Flag Pond tower as well as bids for both towers ready for the commission’s consideration by their next meeting.

The cost of the equipment was estimated at between $9,000 and $11,000 for each tower, with slightly more expense expected in Flag Pond because of features specific to that site. A site for the Limestone Cove tower has not yet been determined.

The commission also voted to approve a resolution not to support the construction of a walking and biking trail to connect Erwin Linear Trail with the Pinnacle Fire Tower Trail in Unicoi due the opposition of residents along a one-mile section of the county that lies between the two towns.

The resolution not to support the trail was approved by a vote of 7 - 1 with commissioner Glenn White absent and Commissioner Matthew Rice opposed. Rice noted that the connector trail is “not a project” at this time but rather the subject of a planning study.

Commission Chairman Loren Thomas recounted the commission’s previous vote not to allocate the nearly $3,000 in grant match funding requested of each of the two towns and the county and the towns’ subsequent decision to split the $9,000 match evenly and proceed with the study without the county’s participation.

When Thomas asked if the trail could not be completed without the county’s support, Evely responded the county’s lack of participation had not impact the study.

Commissioner Stephen Hendrix noted the trail study has not yet resulted in a final plan and that two alternate routes are being considered, including a narrow rural road frequented by pedestrians.

In other business, the commission voted 7-1 to change the time of its monthly meetings from 6 p.m. to 5 p.m. beginning in January. Commissioner Jason Harris, who opposed the 5 p.m. meeting time, said he was concerned about people have difficulty attending at that hour.

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