Tuesday March 12, 2013

WARDSBORO -- With a potential wireless Internet project hanging in the balance, a public meeting is scheduled for Thursday to answer lingering questions.

VTel Wireless Inc. will participate in a question-and-answer session regarding a proposal to place antennas inside the steeple of Wardsboro Methodist Church, said Nancy Perkins, a church trustee.

The session is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at the town hall on Main Street.

"There should be a lot of questions, definitely," Perkins said. "I want people to feel that their questions are answered."

VTel, with backing from a state government eager to expand high-speed Internet access, is working on approximately 200 wireless sites throughout Vermont.

The Wardsboro project has been in the works since summer 2011.

"It’s been going on for so long for all kinds of reasons," Perkins said.

Rather than trying to find a suitable place for a tower, VTel instead proposed placing six antennas inside the historic church’s steeple.

Perkins noted that the plan will not change the church’s appearance, and she said VTel has been accommodating when concerns have arisen. For instance, the company eliminated an outdoor equipment cabinet that had been part of the original design.

"They’ve been wonderful to work with, and they’ve made adjustments in the contract so many times," Perkins said.

The project received approval in September from the state Public Service Board. But not long afterward, church trustees began hearing complaints from neighbors who were concerned about the project or said they had not properly been notified.

In December, trustees voted against proceeding with the project. But the door was left open for further discussion, and that process will begin on Thursday.

"There’s absolutely no doubt that people need information," Perkins said. "People want broadband, and they want to know more about it."

She urged interested members of the public to attend "regardless of where they stand on the project."

Perkins said church trustees also will benefit from Thursday’s meeting.

"We need more information, too," she said.

At some point, trustees will have to make a decision on whether to resume working with VTel. It is not clear when that will happen.

VTel President J. Michel Guité has said the company will not seek legal or financial remedies if the church pulls out of the deal. But in an interview late last month, he also expressed frustration and said negotiations could not continue indefinitely.

"We would be delighted if the church wants to do it," Guité has said. "If not, we would forgive all and tear up the contract."

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