Thursday December 13, 2012

NEWFANE -- A second communications tower is proposed for Newfane, and it could bring benefits for residents and for law enforcement.

Town officials have received word of a possible tower to be built by Vermont Telephone Co. Inc. near the Windham County Sheriff’s office in Newfane Village. And Sheriff Keith Clark said he is negotiating with VTel to place his communications equipment on that tower.

But there are questions about the tower’s potential impacts, and details are scarce because Springfield-based VTel is not yet saying much.

"We have a policy of not making public statements about negotiations that are currently in progress, and that would also be true of any potential wireless site in Newfane," said Sharon Combes-Farr, VTel marketing director.

"When a site is selected in the Newfane area and an agreement has been finalized, VTel will immediately begin the permitting process and information regarding the proposed site will be made public."

The VTel tower has no connection to AT&T’s controversial plans to build a telecommunication tower in South Newfane to serve the Dover Road corridor.

Some residents oppose that tower’s proposed Oak Hill Road location. But AT&T last week said it plans to proceed with an application to the state Public Service Board for a certificate of public good to construct the tower.

VTel’s project apparently is not as far along, though it’s been in the works at least since spring 2011.


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That’s when Clark first ran into a VTel representative who was searching for tower sites in Newfane.

He immediately saw some potential benefit for the sheriff’s department, where communications equipment is perched on an aging tower.

"It’s attached to the building, and it really shouldn’t be," Clark said, surveying the approximately 80-foot structure outside his Jail Street office.

He also points to slackened guy wires as evidence that the tower is leaning.

"I worry every day ... that I’ll lose my tower and lose my communications," Clark said.

The current plan, as Clark understands it, is for VTel to build a free-standing tower a short distance from the wall of the sheriff’s office.

That separates the historic building from the tower, Clark points out. It also means VTel would send some lease money into county coffers, and the sheriff’s department would get a new tower without having to pay for it.

"I get a properly constructed and maintained tower that supports my communications needs," Clark said, adding that he also expects better radio coverage.

"We’ve seen a degradation of our signal," he said. "We think that would be improved with a new tower."

The proposed tower’s dimensions are unclear. In a brief public notice, a consultant soliciting input on the structure’s impact on historic properties characterized it as a "115-foot monopole telecommunications tower."

Clark said he’s been told the tower could reach as high as 150 feet.

VTel’s Combes-Farr did not offer specifics, saying only that the company is targeting Newfane as part of its work to improve wireless broadband access across Vermont.

"VTel presently has a team of people working on site acquisition for our 4G/LTE wireless broadband network, literally all over the state. The network will go online site-by-site during 2013 and is designed with approximately 180 different wireless sites throughout the state," Combes-Farr said in an e-mail to the Reformer.

"Newfane is one of the communities covered by a grant awarded to VTel by the Vermont Telecommunications Authority to extend our federal broadband stimulus-funded network to additional service locations (i.e., homes and businesses) in Vermont communities that are presently underserved or unserved," she added.

The Newfane Selectboard, which has been dealing with fallout from the AT&T proposal, has received little information on the VTel project.

Selectboard Chairman Jon Mack said he has requested more details. He noted that the VTel tower would be in a historic district and that the town has a telecommunications-facility ordinance -- though AT&T essentially has bypassed that law and will apply directly to the state.

Clark is hoping the project comes to fruition. The alternative, he said, would be for the sheriff’s department to invest in a new tower.

"If this project were to fall through, it would be a significant financial cost for me," Clark said.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.