Piscataquis EMA and radio club at odds over use of bunker

By Mike Lange
Staff Writer

    DOVER-FOXCROFT — A dispute between Piscataquis County Emergency Management Agency Director Tom Capraro and the Piscataquis Amateur Radio Club (PARC) came to a head last week as Capraro announced that he has restricted club members’ access to the emergency operations center bunker in Milo.

    PARC has traditionally had a good relationship with the county and has used the center for its meetings and training sessions, so Capraro’s decision caught many people by surprise. But the EMA director told the County Commissioners that PARC has abused their privileges and doesn’t pay anything toward the maintenance or upkeep of the building.
    In a PowerPoint presentation, Capraro showed that $84,511 has been invested in the bunker during the past five years through the county budget and various state and federal grants.
    The center is also a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) monitoring station, which brings in $350 per month in rent. Meals for ME pays for part of the utility bills “and cleans the kitchen and bathroom” on days when they use the center, Capraro said. The EMS office pays for electricity, fuel oil, half the Internet cost, mowing, plowing and sanding.
    “But PARC pays zero,” Capraro said. “They have free use of the Internet, the computer, telephone and radios, the training room with a 70-inch monitor.” Capraro added that the biggest issue is that some PARC members “have started demanding things as if it was their building. They want to come and go as they please — and I’m the bad guy.”
    Capraro cited a couple of instances where PARC was conducting training exercises or scheduling meetings at the bunker without notifying him, which – in his view – was a violation of the memorandum of understanding between the county and PARC.
    Capraro also cited a widely-circulated notice about a demonstration at the bunker last month on the Three-Ring Binder Project — a proposed broadband system designed for low-density rural areas — hosted by Bill Welsh. “I told (the club president) that this was a county building and Mr. (Bill) Welch has no right to use it, unless approved by the county commissioners and myself,” Capraro said.
    Welch said, however, said that the whole issue “was a big misunderstanding.” He gave a brief summary of the Three-Ring Binder Project, noting that Sargent Hill — where the bunker is located — “may be the only place in Piscataquis County suitable for wireless distribution.”
    Welch added that he’s also had meetings with Janet Sawyer of the Piscataquis County Economic Development Council about the project. “This misunderstanding has led to punitive action against the club instead of to me as an individual,” Welch told the commissioners. Welch is also a PARC trustee.
    PARC President Ben Kittredge told commissioners that the club has operated out of the bunker for 20 years and has traditionally provided radio communication services for county-wide events like the Piscataquis River Race.
    Kittredge said he was shocked that the club has been locked out of the facilities “and I’m not sure I ever received an explanation.” He acknowledged that the club did accidentally remove a “working antenna” from the tower at one time, not realizing that it was county property. “Fortunately, there was a spare antenna that could immediately be hooked up to Tom (Capraro’s) radio and it was back on line the same day that we discovered the problem,” Kittredge said.
    The club president said that if the county wanted PARC to pay for part of the bunker’s electric bill, “I think that would be perfectly acceptable. We don’t use very much. The only device that’s on constantly is our repeater.” Commissioner Fred Trask said that he had several concerns about the dispute between PARC and the county EMA office, but thinks the problem is solvable. “I support the club – they are a great asset to the county,” he said. “So we need to work this out.”
    Kittredge reminded the commissioners that only a licensed radio operator can legally operate the repeater. “So it’s important that we have access,” he said.
    Commissioner Eric Ward told the PARC representatives — at the risk of being “the bad guy” in the scenario — “If you want to get into the building, somebody (from the county) is going to have to be there.”
    Jim Annis, chairman of the County Commissioners, said that since there’s $85,000 worth of equipment in the building, “Access does have to be controlled. We like the club and we appreciate the club … What they’ve done is quite impressive.”
    PARC Secretary Deb Kacsowski suggested that the club and Capraro go over the present MOU “and come up with a more defined protocol for the use of the bunker.”
    Trask, who lives in Milo, said he’d be glad to meet with both parties to help resolve the dispute.

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