Cell tower plan: Still waiting

Cell tower for Ridgebury? No deal announced yet.

The company seeking to build a communications tower that could improve cell telephone service in Ridgebury has found three promising sites, but hasn’t reached an agreement with any of the private property owners, according to First Selectman Rudy Marconi.

Mr. Marconi spoke with the company Friday, Dec. 28. “They have reviewed three private properties, all which would provide proper cell service for most of the Ridgebury area.”

Mr. Marconi’s contact at the company — he declined to name the firm — told him it would likely be another month before an agreement with a property owner could be worked out.

People unhappy with the lack of cell service in Ridgebury continue to contact Mr. Marconi, and the concerns have mounted since the mid-December school shooting in Newtown.

“Since the tragic situation in Newtown, many people have emailed asking why we do not have cell coverage in Ridgebury, and what are we doing to correct that situation,” he said.

Mr. Marconi didn’t know details of the arrangement the cell tower company is working on, or what appeared to be holding it up.

“I don’t know what the deal is, whether it’s rent, a purchase, a lease — I have no idea. I think it’s more of an issue as to locating a cell tower there on their property.”

“I have offered the company any assistance they may need in terms of securing a property — I was more than willing to help out,” he said. “But at this time I haven’t heard anything.”

It’s not clear what role the town might play.

“I don’t know at this point, but maybe a landowner who wasn’t willing to sell to a private company would be more willing to sell to the municipality. We don’t know that,” Mr. Marconi said.

“And I’ve asked him for a decision, or at least to notify us as soon as they reach a decision, so we may pursue whatever alternatives are available to the town. But I would much rather have this be a private-company solution than a municipal solution,” he said.

The company seeking a site wants to find a single location that would serve all or most of the north Ridgefield area that needs  coverage, rather than try to solve the problem with a few different — perhaps less ideally situated — tower sites.

“The company representative stated that they would much rather seek one location than multiple locations, due to cost implications,” Mr. Marconi said. “Who wants to put up two towers when you can put up one? But we may have to look at the possibility of looking at separate locations, or multiple tower locations.”

Proposals for communications towers are exempt from most local regulations, such as zoning. But any plan would have to go through the procedures of the Connecticut Siting Council — include a public hearing, probably at the council offices in New Britain.

Nearly two years ago, the selectmen and Conservation Commission put together a proposal to buy 28 acres off Ledges Road and Old Stagecoach Road, sharing the $1-million cost and getting both a tower site and open-space land out of the deal. After months of debate and bitter opposition, spearheaded by neighbors, the plan was rejected by Town Meeting voters in 2011.

“Most didn’t even know that an effort has been made and that it was voted down by a Town Meeting,” Mr. Marconi said of those contacting him recently about Ridgebury cell service.

“They’re totally uninformed about the fact that we, about a year and a half ago, held a Town Meeting for the possibility of a cell tower in Ridgebury, which was soundly defeated, by about 2 to 1.”

Mr. Marconi isn’t sure what tack he’ll take if the deal the cell company currently has in the works doesn’t bear fruit. But he said the goal wouldn’t be abandoned.

“I’d have to wait and assess the outcome of the private effort and pick up the pieces from there and move on toward securing a cell tower for Ridgebury,” he said. “There are multiple reasons why we need this facility.”

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