by Todd Wellington
Weak radio reception in Essex, Orleans and Caledonia counties, complicated by some technical limitations, are forcing those charged with implementing a new statewide emergency warning system to seek some new answers in an effort to include two Northeast Kingdom radio stations in the system. And now it appears that both of those answers sit on top of Burke Mountain.
The 1997 General Assembly created a steering committee to assist with the implementation of the Vermont Emergency Alert System and appropriated $50,000 to assist with purchase of the necessary equipment to do so.
Vermont EAS replaces the old Emergency Broadcast System, well-known for its periodic test tones on the radio. The new system is designed to broadcast local and national emergency and weather information.
A federal law passed last February requires that radio and television stations air a test of the new system, a series of alert buzzes, at least once a week.
But those broadcasts do not now reach two Northeast Kingdom radio stations - WIKE-AM in Newport and WMOO-FM in Derby.
"Generally, there is weak radio reception in Essex, Orleans and Caledonia counties, and I understand the power output of a weather information transmitter on Mount Mansfield cannot be increased because of resulting radiation and interference," wrote state Sen. Vincent Illuzzi, R-Essex-Orleans, who sits on the steering committee, in a letter to Vermont Educational Television President Hope Green.
Illuzzi said that the logical thing to do would be to rebroadcast the signal from the ETV tower on Burke Mountain, but that a steep rental fee charged for the use of the tower is cost prohibitive for the program.
Illuzzi said that the cost of buying the proper radio equipment will drain the EAS budget unless a reduction in the fee can be negotiated. "The system right now, doesn't have the cash," he said.
Vermont ETV reportedly has a $4,000 yearly rental fee for the use of its tower.
"To assist with implementing a truly statewide Vermont EAS, given current available funding, I request Vermont ETV reconsider its $4,000 annual rental demand for the use of its tower on Burke Mountain, " wrote Illuzzi.
"Please consider allowing use of tower space at no rental cost for a three year period, thereby giving Vermont EAS a chance to use current funding to purchase equipment and get otherwise started."
Contacted at ETV headquarters in Colchester, Green said that although she has not studied the proposal in depth, she is confidant that some arrangement can be be worked out.
"We care a lot about emergency management here," said Green, "I'm sure we'll be able to work something out," she said. "Clearly we're gonna do this for the least possible money."
Bruce James, owner of WMGT-FM radio in Lyndonville and president of the Vermont Association of Broadcasters, said that the Vermont EAS is an especially important program for this area.
"It's important for weather radio to be received in this area to allow citizens and broadcast facilities to be aware of any imminent weather events of danger," said James. I hope that the ETV and emergency management can work out the differences," he said.
Vermont Public Radio is also putting in a transmitter on the mountain and the committee is planning to meet with VPR officials tomorrow about a possible arrangement. "We're exploring all options," said Illuzzi.