Gov. Peter Shumlin addresses Newfane Town Meeting, Tuesday morning. Behind him, left to right, are Selectboard members Todd Lawley, Priscilla Cotton, Jon
Gov. Peter Shumlin addresses Newfane Town Meeting, Tuesday morning. Behind him, left to right, are Selectboard members Todd Lawley, Priscilla Cotton, Jon Mack and Christine Druke. (Mike Faher/Reformer)
Wednesday March 6, 2013

NEWFANE -- When Gov. Peter Shumlin dropped by Williamsville Hall Tuesday morning, he didn't hesitate to bring up a sensitive topic -- expansion of wireless broadband and cellular service.

With Newfane officials having been deeply involved in recent controversies over placement of both a wireless-broadband tower and a cellular tower, some still are concerned over what they say is a lack of local influence in the state's permitting process.

But Shumlin was blunt in his assessment as he departed Newfane's Town Meeting.

"My view is, the system works," he said.

The governor returned to his native county to make stops at meetings in Townshend, Newfane, Dummerston and Putney. Shumlin received a warm reception in Newfane and revisited some familiar topics including promotion of renewable energy, implementation of single-payer health care and improvement of the state's educational system.

He also reiterated his pledge that, by the end of this year, he would bring "high-speed Internet access to every last mile -- we're going to deliver on it."

Shumlin added that he knew there had "been some debate" about that process in Newfane.

For now, that debate appears to have ended on the wireless-broadband front. Vermont Telephone Co. Inc. -- after running into opposition for a proposed tower in historic Newfane Village -- found another location outside the village.


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However, AT&T still is pursuing a cellular tower in South Newfane, where some residents are vehemently opposed to the plan.

Both VTel and Newfane bypassed a town ordinance regulating communications facilities. And the process left some officials feeling that they essentially were left out of the state's permitting process.

Selectboard Chairman Jon Mack asked Shumlin about that at Town Meeting, and the governor addressed a different inquiry from Mack rather than answering that question.

But on his way out the door, the governor said the state is taking necessary steps toward an important goal.

"We can't deliver on our promise to deliver high-speed Internet access to every last mile of Vermont without putting up towers," Shumlin said.

Later in the meeting, voters approved a non-binding resolution saying the town should send Mack's recent letter about Newfane's tower-permitting experiences to the state Public Service Board and to Newfane's elected state officials.

The process was "a disturbing example of how corporate interests exercise undue control over public resources and democratic processes," Mack wrote.

In other Newfane Town Meeting news:

-- The town's two contested races in Australian ballot voting yielded extremely close results.

With three candidates seeking two available one-year Selectboard seats, incumbent Christine Druke was a clear winner with 245 votes. But Michael Fitzpatrick and Chris Williams, vying for the other seat, finished just 10 votes apart -- The tally was 129 for Fitzpatrick and 119 for Williams.

The town treasurer contest was even closer. Treasurer Maureen Albert-Piascik won 137 votes compared with challenger Merle Tessier's 133.

The results could be challenged by filing an appeal with Newfane Town Clerk Gloria Cristelli.

-- It turned out that voters did not have to debate allocating a substantial amount of money for town-office renovations.

The budget already includes $25,000 for office improvements. Some, citing problems including water and mold in the basement, had said they would move to amend that number to $100,000.

But resident Gunther Garbe said he and others decided against that.

"Rather than address it here with a minimal amount of information, we're going to form a committee that will formulate a plan of action," Garbe said before a vote on the town's capital fund.

"There were procedural questions -- whether it would have made sense to throw another $75,000 at the assembly," Garbe added.

Mack said the Selectboard has endorsed the idea of creating a town-office committee that will report back to the board.

-- After some discussion, residents on a voice vote approved $5,100 for Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies, which is trying to raise money from towns to support regional economic-growth initiatives.

Some noted that the allocation -- which the Selectboard had not included in its proposed budget but had listed in a separate meeting article -- was higher than other social-service spending.

"With all due respect, it sounds like we don't know much at all about this organization," one attendee said.

But others defended SeVEDS. Luke Stafford of South Newfane said the organization will work to attract more young people to the area.

"They're very organized, and they've got great plans to help the economy in southeastern Vermont," Stafford said.

The town's budget, initially proposed at $1.2 million, was amended to include the SeVEDS funding.

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