New York Power Authority CEO Gil C. Quiniones is no stranger to the isolation people feel when they’re trapped with no cellphone signal during a disaster.
He was among others who got stuck at NYPA’s hydroelectric plant in Schoharie County when Tropical Storm Irene flooding buckled state Route 30 north and south of the facility.
“To me it was a personal experience. It still is a personal experience, for me,” Quiniones said Wednesday before a group of about 60 firefighters and other rescuers.
Quiniones recalled being at the Blenheim-Gilboa facility early Aug. 28 to update the governor on the status of NYPA facilities following an earthquake that hit the region days before.
He planned on leaving afterward, but couldn’t — the roads were destroyed by the Schoharie Creek. Then, Quiniones ran into more trouble trying to get in contact with staff from the governor’s office and emergency management officials.
“It was very difficult to communicate,” he said Wednesday — before announcing an effort aimed at bringing some Schoharie County communities out of the “no signal” zone.
NYPA is issuing a request for proposals, calling on carriers to investigate options for improving wireless communication in the mountainous Route 30 corridor from Grand Gorge in Delaware County to Middleburgh in Schoharie County.
The announcement was delivered at the Blenheim-Gilboa visitor center off Route 30, where dozens of firefighters and ambulance rescue service personnel were treated with sandwiches, beverages and thanks.
Quiniones and NYPA central New York manager Lynn H. Hait presented a total of $207,000 in grants to those fire and rescue companies that cover the massive facility in their districts.
Hait, who emphasized that they are all volunteers, said the firefighters and ambulance workers deserve “sincere appreciation.”
“These individuals are always on the front lines when disaster strikes,” he said.
Grants aimed at boosting the capabilities of these rescue agencies were issued based on requests from departments and ranged from $15,000 to $64,000. Receiving grant funds were the Blenheim Hose Co., Conesville Fire Department and Rescue Squad, Grand Gorge Fire Department and Rescue Squad, Jefferson Fire Department and Rescue Squad, Middleburgh Emergency Volunteer Ambulance Corps. and Middleburgh Fire Department.
The money will help these volunteer rescue agencies purchase items like all-terrain vehicles, stretchers, portable generators and, in the case of the Middleburgh Fire Department, training.
Middleburgh Fire Chief Mike Devlin said the department was rejected for grant funding for swift water rescue training five times before Tropical Storm Irene sent floodwater cascading into the department’s district.
The department’s volunteers performed about 40 rescues in rushing floodwater in the dark of night. For most of the time, the power was still on, Devlin said, making the difficult situation even more risky due to potential downed electric lines.
He said NYPA has provided assistance to the department each year its annual grant program is offered.
“They treat us well every year,” Devlin said.
Schoharie County has been trying to find a cellphone company to consider improving coverage along the Route 30 corridor, with limited success. The county issued an RFP several months ago, pointing to several towers that already exist.One company responded, but there are no specific plans in the works at this point, county data processing director Stanley France said earlier Wednesday.
Gilboa Supervisor Anthony Van Glad said for him, a vehicle and word of mouth were the only means of communicating in the town during last year’s disasters.
He said the county doesn’t own much land and NYPA might get more of a response than the county did. “They swing a bigger bat,” Van Glad said.
The authority owns thousands of acres of land in the region, including mountaintops and a miles-long stretch of right-of-way for power transmission lines that travel through Albany County.