VTel finds alternate Newfane site for cell tower

Friday February 22, 2013

NEWFANE -- It appears that there may be a happy ending to at least one of Newfane's tower controversies.

An executive says Vermont Telephone Co. Inc., which had proposed building a 150-foot tower at the Windham County Sheriff's office in Newfane Village, now has a deal with a different property owner outside of that district.

But the company also is not leaving Sheriff Keith Clark out in the cold: VTel will donate at least $15,000 toward replacement of Clark's aging, 87-foot communications tower, company President J. Michel Guité said.

"We would make a gift to him to upgrade his tower," Guité said.

VTel administrators and Clark initially had struck what they believed was a mutually beneficial deal: VTel would erect a wireless-broadband tower near the north wall of the sheriff's Jail Street office.

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

Meanwhile, Clark has said his department's radio-communications tower, which is currently attached to his building, was in dire need of repair or replacement.

The proposal called for Clark to mount his communications equipment on VTel's new, taller, better-constructed tower at little to no cost to taxpayers.

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.

Not long after that, VTel confirmed that it was examining alternate locations. It now appears that search has ended.

Guité said he could not yet disclose the new, proposed tower location. But he said VTel has an agreement on a "nice site up on the hill" and outside the historic village.

"My guess is, that's the best outcome," Guité said.

He also said there was a positive to continued media coverage of the tower issue.

"More people came forward saying, ‘I have a site. Would you like to use it?" Guité said, adding that the VTel found "there are several sites that would work just as well."

Guité acknowledged that the change in plans represents "a little bit of a headache, because we went through the trouble of signing a contract with the sheriff."

But he 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.

Clark on Thursday said he had not yet received a formal offer from VTel, but he welcomed the news.

"I certainly would appreciate any support they're willing to offer," Clark said. "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.

Guité agreed. The goal for VTel, he said, simply was to provide wireless-broadband coverage in Newfane.

"We want to be there, and we want to have a successful outcome," Guité said.

He added that, "we just want to do the right thing."

Still proceeding as originally planned is another, unrelated tower project in South Newfane, where AT&T wants to build a cell-phone tower on Oak Hill Road to provide service to the Dover Road corridor.

Some residents are opposed to that tower, mainly because they say it stands too close to a cluster of homes. But AT&T has applied to the state Department of Public Service for a certificate of public good to build the structure.

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


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