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Petition Targets Norwich VTel Tower

Norwich — Residents are refusing to back down from their dispute with Selectboard over the proposed VTel telecommunications tower.

More than 40 people jammed themselves into Tracy Hall Wednesday night to urge the Selectboard to place a bond article on the Town Meeting ballot that would essentially end the agreement with VTel to own and maintain a 180-foot cell tower.

But the Selectboard voted 3-2 not to place a warning article on the ballot despite residents' push back — Selectmen Ed Childs, Keith Moran and Steve Flanders voted against it.

Last fall, Town Manager Neil Fulton signed a letter of intent with VTel, a Springfield, Vt.-based telecommunications company, that will allow VTel to lease a piece of property on New Boston Road for up to 60 years. VTel will pay for the construction of the tower, and in return, the town can use space on the tower for radio communication.

Before the Selectboard could even make a vote this week, Norwich resident Rick Otto began silently passing around a petition for a $275,000 bond to be placed on the Town Meeting ballot.

Since it’s a bond issue, the petition requires 10 percent of registered voters to sign it — about 320 residents in Norwich. If residents gather the necessary signatures, then the Selectboard must place it on the ballot, said Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos.

“The implicit part of the bond measure is if you vote for it, you are saying you want the town to pay for it, not VTel,” said Otto, who added that he was confident that residents would gather enough signatures.

About 10 residents stood up and made their cases to the Selectboard Wednesday night, including Sharon Racusin, who went as far as comparing the lease with VTel to “signing a pact with the devil.”

Fulton said that if the town decides to cut ties with VTel, it would delay the tower being built for six to 12 months, and the earliest that the town could receive bond money is August.

Flanders said he wouldn’t support the article because of the delay it could cause in getting the tower constructed. The police, fire and public works departments are already seeing decreased radio coverage because the Federal Communications Commission switched from broadband to narrowband signals. The tower is expected resolve those problems.

Fulton reminded the board that even if the bond passes, it would authorize the Selectboard to sell bonds, but it would not require them to do so. Fulton also told the Selectboard that the town could lose a $92,000 grant for the police department if it’s not applied by June 30.

But Norwich resident Irv Thomae said he’d rather commit to a 20-year bond than a possible 60-year lease with VTel.

“I’m hoping to live another 20 years. I won’t live another 60 years,” Thomae said. “I don’t like to mortgage the future of the town.”

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.