â Gov. Spitzer, Verizon among parties at table&_byline2;Staff WriterPLATTSBURGH — An agreement has been reached among the key players involved in trying to settle the Northway cell-phone dispute.A "statement of principles" has been formed to guide future development of cell-phone service along a corridor of Interstate 87, according to Gov. Eliot Spitzer's office.Joining the governor at the table were Verizon Wireless and five major environmental groups."The key to this agreement is that the environmental groups will not fight the plan," State Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) said."They and the governor's office agree that there needs to be cell service on the Northway, and I hope we can get something in before next winter."
Under the plan, Verizon Wireless will install 11 towers along a stretch of the Northway between Keeseville and Schroon Lake.The towers will all be on private land and must adhere to local and Adirondack Park Agency regulations.No state money will be involved.John O'Malley, a spokesman for Verizon Wireless, said the height of each tower will vary, depending on the location, with some reaching about 100 feet tall.They will also comply with APA regulations that call for towers to be substantially invisible."We will try to blend in as best we can," O'Malley said.
Lawmakers and concerned citizens have been calling for a Northway cell-phone solution for years, but the matter became more pressing after two people died in accidents earlier this year.On Jan. 25, Alfred P. Langner, 63, of Brooklyn died when he and his wife, Barbara P. Langner, 58, were stuck off the road near North Hudson in sub-zero temperatures for about 32 hours and could not call for help.Three weeks later, Stewart W. Crookes, 60, a trucker from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, died of an apparent heart attack after walking around his 50-foot truck in waist-deep snow after the truck skidded onto the median near New Russia.Crookes' wife, Donna, tried to call for help on her cell phone but had no luck. It took about 90 minutes for an ambulance to reach the scene after Mrs. Crookes flagged down two passing motorists who had to drive five miles before they were in range to call for help.
Lawmakers and environmentalists have debated several plans over the recent years, but until Wednesday, could not reach an agreement.Little hopes the agreement will lead to a real solution."This is a big step," she said. "I hope it's taken in good faith."Verizon's O'Malley said the company will negotiate leases for sites of the 11 planned towers. They will then go through the normal permitting process with municipalities and the APA."Getting something in by next winter might be an aggressive timetable," O'Malley said."It all depends on how quickly we can negotiate leases and get approval."The Northway plan is part of a $120 million investment by Verizon Wireless throughout upstate New York.While the company had planned to invest in the Northway corridor, O'Malley said the two fatal accidents and the subsequent outcry spurred talks along."The Northway is a major highway, and to have huge gaps like that is unusual."
Gov. Spitzer's office has been coordinating talks for cell coverage the past few months."The safety of travelers along the Adirondack Northway corridor has been a paramount concern, and I commend Verizon Wireless for taking the approach of a good corporate citizen and working with the Adirondack groups toward a comprehensive solution that resolves safety concerns in a manner that protects the scenic resources of the Adirondack Park," Spitzer said in a news release.Environmental groups also expressed satisfaction with the agreement."This general agreement we have reached with the governor's office and with the cell-phone industry will speed construction of a system that protects public safety without compromising the Adirondack Park's wild character for ecological integrity," said Scott Lorey, legislative director for the Adirondack Council.Peter Bauer, executive director of the Residents' Committee to Protect the Adirondacks, said the agreement will provide for long-term cell coverage for the Northway."The agreement protects both the people and the environment of the Adirondack Park, the two priceless resources that make the Adirondack Park such a wonderful place."
In addition to the understanding that the towers must be "substantially invisible," the agreement calls for no construction of towers, maintenance roads or electrical power lines on state Forest Preserve land.The system must also honor all scenic easements that the state has acquired along the Northway.It must allow for co-location by the statewide Wireless Network project, other carriers and public-safety groups.Assemblywomen Teresa Sayward (R-Willsboro) and Janet Duprey (R-Peru), like Little, hope the plan can be sped up."I am very pleased that the governor was able to bring Verizon Wireless and the various environmental groups concerned with protecting the integrity for the Adirondack region to an agreement that will bring enhanced safety services to the North Country residents," Sayward said."Now it is important that we move forward quickly so that cell-phone coverage will be provided along the Northway before another winter sets in."