Trains of thought set in motion by the Newtown school shooting have led some Ridgefielders to look again at the need for better cell phone communication — and a cell tower — in Ridgebury.
“The terrible tragedy in Newtown only accentuates that we need to bring ourselves into the 21st Century and have our general citizenry be able to communicate in times of emergency when conventional lines are down,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said Tuesday.
He echoed concerns by school board members at the informal “lunch bunch” gathering Monday, where security was the main focus and poor cell-phone coverage came up repeatedly as a weak point in emergency communication.
The concern about communication in the event of some act of violence comes, of course, in the context of continuing concerns about the more routine disruptions caused by things like the weather.
“Irene, Alfred — one was the hurricane last August, then the snow storm last October — plus Hurricane Sandy this year,” Mr. Marconi said.
To the first selectman, the need is evident.
“I agree 100%. We need cell coverage in that area, and we will continue to pursue it,” he said. “However, we are taking a different approach in that we’ll be working with the private sector to have that happen.”
Mr. Marconi is hopeful that a solution is in the works.
Three weeks ago he said a private cell communication company had told him it was talking with property owners in the area and expected to make an announcement around the beginning of the year.
He hasn’t spoken to the company since.
“I have not called them nor have they called me,” he said Tuesday.
The announcement that a private cell tower company believed it was near a deal had been made by Mr. Marconi at the Nov. 28 public hearing on a Conservation Commission purchase of 28 acres off Ledges and Old Stagecoach road — an acquisition approved by a town meeting Wednesday night.
A proposal to buy the same property had been put forward in 2011, with most of the land to be open space but a small parce designated by the town for rental as a cell tower site.
The tower proposal prompted bitter opposition and that plan was soundly defeated at town meeting in 2011.
When the open space purchase of the same land was proposed by the Conservation Commission this fall, partisans on both sides of the cell tower issue entered the discussion.
But the debate was defused by Mr. Marconi’s statement at the Nov. 28 public hearing that a cell company told him it expected to reach an agreement with a private landowner soon on a different cell tower site.
There was little discussion of the cell tower at last Wednesday’s town meeting, and the 28-acre purchase passed on a comfortable voice vote.
“We’re hoping that this private company is successful. We weren’t,” Mr. Marconi said. “There was an overwhelming vote against it. Do you bring it back?”
At the moment, Mr. Marconi said, he has no detailed back-up plan on the cell tower issue if the agreement the private company said it was seeking never bears fruit
But he has an idea of a track that might be followed.
“If they came up short with a single location,” he said. “we’d go to looking to create a couple of different locations.”
By having more than one tower location, he said, there is less need to have the tower high up.
“Cell towers have to be able to see each other,” he said.
A plan that used a series of towers might open up lower elevation sites for consideration, Mr. Marconi said.
“A single tower site requires a specific altitude. You may have other sites, but they’re not high enough to satisfy a single location.
“If we put up a couple of different towers, maybe three, that would allow this line of sight communication to take place, that would be the second option,” Mr. Marconi said.
“No one wants to pursue that because it’s costly and you’re putting up a couple of sites,” Mr. Marconi said. “We’d much prefer what being pursued now, a single location.
“But if that were to fail, I would work with a couple of different companies in looking at the possibility of putting in a couple of different locations,” he said.
If there were multiple locations, different companies might share the cost, he said.
“I would also say, we need to hear from people who support this. In government, in my capacity, I need to look at the majority position,” Mr. Marconi said. “If the majority opinion is not to support this, we’re not going to.
“But I happen to think at this current time, that there are more people who would like to see this than not.”
Mr. Marconi said he might consider doing an online survey of Ridgefielders opinions son the question.
“I need to know the majority of the town is in support, and not just Ridgebury residents.”
Other townspeople travel in Ridgebury, have kids that go the schools there. It should matter to them, he said.
“We have coverage of all the other areas. We have coverage because there are cell towers,” he said. “We have a cell tower right in the center of town at the Ridgefield Police Department, and have for 20 years.”