VTel examining Newfane tower options

Thursday January 17, 2013

NEWFANE -- Vermont Telephone Co. Inc. confirmed on Wednesday that it is examining alternate sites for a Newfane wireless-broadband tower.

But that acknowledgement -- along with a lack of any state-permit application -- does not mean the Springfield-based company has dropped a controversial proposal to build a tower beside the Windham County sheriff's office.

"We have not ruled out the sheriff's location as a wireless site for the Town of Newfane," VTel spokeswoman Sharon Combes-Farr said.

VTel last month disclosed plans to build a 150-foot tower near the north wall of the sheriff's office on Jail Street in Newfane Village. The structure would be part of VTel's statewide effort -- bolstered by federal funding -- to expand its wireless-broadband network.

Sheriff Keith Clark has lobbied for the tower because it also would host his emergency-communications equipment. Clark has said he needs to replace an aging, 87-foot radio tower attached to his building.

But there are concerns about a tower's impacts on the historic, picturesque village. Also, Village Trustee Dick Marek last week said commercial activity is prohibited on the county property where VTel is looking to build.

Combes-Farr did not make reference to any opposition to the tower but said VTel is "actively looking at additional locations in Newfane."

"This is consistent with every other town where we must deliver broadband service and, therefore, need to have a wireless site on our network," Combes-Farr said in an e-mail to the Reformer.

"For every planned wireless site location, until a final site is selected and fully permitted, we continue to look for additionally usable wireless sites to make sure that we can provide service in that area."

VTel's president, after a Dec. 20 meeting in Newfane, said he hoped to send the tower plans to the state Public Service Board within three weeks. Combes-Farr confirmed on Wednesday that the company has not yet applied to the state.

"We would need a final contract before we go to the next step in the permitting process, including state-level applications," she said.

However, Clark is no longer hopeful that the tower will be built as initially planned. He cited historic-district concerns and other issues, saying the project may have become "cost-prohibitive."

"I think something will be done," Clark said Wednesday. "I don't think it will look like the original proposal."

The sheriff said he could tie his radio equipment into a more-distant tower if VTel would build such a structure. But he added that "the problem is, that will increase my cost."

He has warned that any tower costs will have to be passed on to the public.

Clark said the tower debate -- and its revelation of development restrictions -- has led him to question whether the busy sheriff's department is headquartered in the right place.

"If my tower collapsed today . . . I'm not sure I could replace it," he said.

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


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