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$1.8M emergency operating center at Arnold Palmer airport gets OK

| Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012, 12:02 a.m.

The longtime dream of a regional emergency operating center at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Unity is a step closer to reality.

The Unity Township Planning Commission this week gave its preliminary approval to the $1.8 million project.

The Westmoreland County Airport Authority plans to build the 10,000-square-foot building at the southern end of the airport, with access from the main entrance to the property, said Dwayne Pickels, the authority's administrative assistant.

The building will serve as training center for local emergency responders and a backup center for the Public Safety building on Donohoe Road in Hempfield, said Dan Stevens, spokesman for the Westmoreland County Department of Public Safety.

The secure facility will house some of the $7 million in emergency equipment scattered across the county in storage, Stevens said. The county's mobile emergency center also would be housed there.

“It's going to be a huge asset for the county and for the township,” Stevens said, adding it will be especially useful in cases of emergencies, such as floods, in eastern Westmoreland.

“It will raise the emergency preparedness of the region,” he said.

Plans for a regional emergency operating center at the airport have been discussed for 25 years, Pickels said. An earlier version would have put the emergency center close to the intersection of routes 30 and 981.

The airport authority board is expected to award contracts for the building at its Tuesday meeting. The authority opened bids in September and likely will award contracts pending the township's approval of the project, Pickels said.

Construction could begin by the end of the year, and the building could be completed within 12 months, Stevens said.

The airport authority's stormwater management plan and a wildlife management plan still must be approved, Pickels said. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is assessing wildlife hazards, particularly any that could be caused by birds attracted to a retention pond on the property, he said.

The Federal Aviation Administration also is reviewing the plan, Pickels said.

The county has money earmarked for building the center, Stevens said, including a $900,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and additional funds from private sources.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reachedat 724-836-5252 or jnapsha@tribweb.com.

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