Wednesday February 27, 2013

The amicable resolution of at least one of Newfane’s cell tower controversies is welcome news.

Late last year Vermont Telephone Co. Inc. announced plans to build a 150-foot wireless-broadband tower at the Windham County Sheriff’s office in Newfane Village. The company struck a mutually-beneficial deal with Sheriff Keith Clark to replace his department’s aging radio-communications tower by allowing him to mount his communications equipment on VTel’s new, taller, better-constructed tower at little to no cost to taxpayers.

That plan was part of VTel’s state-supported effort to expand high-speed Internet access throughout the state.

But there was opposition. Some worried about the effect of a 150-foot tower in the middle of the picturesque, historic village. And a village trustee in January reported that commercial activity is prohibited on the county-owned land.

Fortunately, all of the negative reports from that controversy had a positive outcome as more people came forward offering the use of their land as a potential site for the new tower.

VTel President J. Michel Guité said several of the alternative sites examined by the company work just as well. He confirmed last week that VTel has an agreement on a "nice site up on the hill" and outside the historic village.

Guité said the goal for VTel simply was to provide wireless-broadband coverage in Newfane, to have a successful outcome, and "to do the right thing." The company proved that twice over, by being sensitive to the town’s concerns and also by honoring its previous commitment to Clark. VTel extended an offer of a $15,000 to $25,000 donation so that the sheriff’s tower upgrade could proceed independently of the VTel tower project.

"I certainly would appreciate any support they’re willing to offer," Clark told the Reformer. "For me, it comes down to this: I need to make a significant infrastructure investment, which is replacing my tower or substantially upgrading it."

Clark said he does not plan to increase the height of the current radio tower. And he believes VTel’s donation will cover most, if not all, of his project costs.

"It still comes out a win-win situation," Clark said.

Indeed. We’ve written many times on this page about the importance of improving cell phone service in southern Vermont. In this day and age when virtually everyone has a cell phone, this lack of coverage is not only an inconvenience for those who like to stay connected with family and friends, it’s also an impediment to business growth.

More importantly, there’s the issue of safety. Enhanced 911 service through better cell coverage would allow emergency responders to pinpoint the location within the town from which a wireless call or message is placed. And there’s no disputing the necessity for the Sheriff’s Department to have state-of-the-art communications equipment and service.

With this latest agreement everyone gets what they want, and the aesthetics of Newfane’s historic village are preserved.