PLATTSBURGH — In the newly passed state budget, there's $1 million allocated to help bring improved cell-phone coverage along the Adirondack Northway, and that's welcome news locally."Maybe this is a good sign we may be able to move ahead with this," said Essex Town Supervisor Ron Jackson, a former emergency medical technician. "But the devil is in the details. If it takes several years to get approved and designed, I'll be disappointed."He has been very vocal in his support of efforts by Sen. Betty Little and Assemblywomen Theresa Sayward and Janet Duprey on the issue and vocal in his disappointment with Gov. Eliot Spitzer's lack of action.He remained hopeful a temporary solution could be in place before next winter.The $1 million obviously won't be enough to fund a system of towers, he said, but could be enough for research, design and perhaps permitting costs.The successful funding effort followed two fatalities on the Northway — also known as I-87 — in a span of two weeks that whipped public outcry to a frenzy over the lack of cell-phone signal where the tragedies occurred.Alfred Langner, 63, of Brooklyn, died of exposure after his car went off the road Jan. 25 and was hidden by a rock outcropping and trees. He and his wife, Barbara, were not found for about 33 hours because their cell phone had no signal and they were unable to get out of the vehicle.During the Valentine's Day blizzard, Stewart W. Crookes, 60, of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, died of a heart attack after he walked around his 80-foot truck in waist-deep snow after it slid off the Northway. His wife, Donna, made an unsuccessful attempts to call on a cell phone.She was able to flag down passing motorists, who had to drive about five miles before they were able to summon help, which did not arrive until about 90 minutes after the accident.It is unclear if Crookes would have survived with a more rapid response, because he was later determined to have died from cardiac arrest due to severe coronary-artery disease.Those fatalities led to renewed demand from state and local government leaders for cell phone service along the Northway.In response to the budget funding, Little said Sunday, "The goal is to provide service that is fully funded (by) a cell-phone carrier, not requiring support from the state. But given the existing state policy that restricts the height of cell-phone towers in the Adirondacks, a state subsidy may be appropriate for an interim or long-term solution."She referred to state laws that limit development and construction in the 6-million-acre Adirondack Park.Environmental groups have long opposed taller towers, saying they would spoil the landscape and violate scenic easements.Elizabethtown-Lewis Emergency Squad President Patty Bashaw, who has also been outspoken about the need for coverage, said she was happy to learn of the funding."I'm pleasantly surprised. That's good news," she said.Cell-phone service is critical for emergency responders in that area, Bashaw said, because of the distance responders need to travel. It can take 20 to 30 minutes to reach some accident scenes.In addition to early notification, the service would speed the process of obtaining drug orders from the hospital, Bashaw said. Presently, EMTs have to contact the Essex County Sheriff's Department, which calls Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake. The hospital then provides the drug orders, which are relayed through the Sheriff's Department to the EMT.That process is then repeated to ensure the proper information has been received, Bashaw said."If I had a cell phone (with service) in hand, I could call Saranac Lake directly to talk with the doctors," she said.Bashaw also would like to see coverage go beyond the Northway to other areas with no coverage, including Split Rock Falls and its dangerous swimming hole in New Russia."We have the same problem (there)," she said. How many drownings have there been at Split Rock Falls?"
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