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Cell tower needed for safety reasons
OTISFIELD — The advantages of erecting a 180-foot-high cell tower on Scribner Hill were presented by three town department heads at the selectmen meeting August 15.
All agreed that better wireless connections are needed for safety reasons. The cell tower would be the first in town.
According to Fire Chief Mike Hooker, from January 1 to August 15, about 43 percent of calls made to Oxford County dispatch were by cell phone.
"It's important that, when someone is calling 9-1-1, that they are able to reach us when they need help," he said.
Hooker said a cell tower would particularly benefit the elderly, who are being encouraged to keep a cell phone nearby in case they fall down.
"Not everybody can afford life-alert services," he said.
Hooker said Oxford County Regional Communications is working toward a grant for towns with cell towers to create a satellite so RCC can use the tower to communicate with the towns.
Coordination with crews is especially a benefit during floods and other natural disasters, said Hooker. "Having a tower would help us provide communication whenever we need it," he told selectmen.
"It's a big step up."
Though the meeting was not meant to address the legal battle between Friends of Scribner Hill and the planning board about the tower's construction, a shouting match nevertheless erupted when a member of the group stood up to speak.
Resident John Poto only spoke for about a minute before Chairman Hal Ferguson shut him down. "You're taking up all our time," said Ferguson. "We've all heard it."
Ferguson said he respected Poto's right to speak, but that the meeting was not meant to discuss the lawsuit. Poto said that was not his intention.
"Oh, I get it. Let other people speak. It's their right,” he told Ferguson.
About a half dozen other department heads were present at the meeting and were encouraged by selectmen to speak on the issue.
Ferguson said that when a 67-year-old man crashed his single-engine plane on icy Pleasant Lake last March, Selectman Lenny Adler was unable to communicate with the fire chief.
The town's Emergency Management Director Frank Blauvelt said "communication is really critical," especially during car accidents, fires or other natural disasters, like the Ice Storm of '98 or Hurricane Irene.
"People are relying on cell phones," he said.
He said he sees the frustration from both sides. "I'm no negotiator, but I think somebody could get in the middle of this and try to iron this out, without collecting $300 an hour," he said.
"I sympathize with the arguments from Friends of Scribner Hill," he said. "I understand where they're coming from, but it hasn't convinced me that a tower should not be built."
Friends of Scribner Hill members believe they have been denied public comment on the matter since the Board of Appeals hearing in March, held on the group's appeal of the planning board's permit approval for the tower.
They have also said the town did not follow its telecommunications ordinance and that abutters were not properly notified of hearings and could therefore not offer input.
"Unless something does happen before winter, we aren't going to have any communications," said Road Commissioner Richard Bean, who supports a tower. He said that especially on a stormy night, cell phone service is "practically zero."
Because of poor communication, Bean said he was concerned about the safety of men and women who plow. "I think something ought to be done about it," he said.
Board Secretary Tanya Taft said she had an incident where she needed to call the fire department and got disconnected three times because of poor cell phone coverage – she therefore supports a cell tower.
The planning board is currently compiling its "facts of finding" by order of the Oxford County Superior Court. In the meantime, the board of selectmen have requested the public not discuss ongoing litigation.