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Freedom selectmen address stalled cell tower project

January 10, 2013
FREEDOM — "When will my wife be able to track me down in Freedom?" was the question asked by Freedom Selectman Neal Boyle at Monday's selectmen's meeting as discussion ensued about the completion of the cell tower being constructed on Moulton Road. The company constructing the cell tower in the center of Freedom had until Dec. 28 to complete the requirements outlined in a cease and desist order but failed to get the work done on time.

Representing North Atlantic Tower Company, John Stevens of Infinigy Engineering, said the required stormwater management plan work is 80 percent complete and asked permission to "button up the site" for the winter.

Selectman Chairman Les Babb said there has to be a way to work out a plan between all parties to get the project complete. "You did not complete the stormwater management work by the deadline December 28. We can fine you $550 per day until complete. That doesn't serve anyone's purpose to do that. I think we should try to work together. I think you should put the tower up and be done for the winter," said Babb. Stevens said it is preferable, since the project requires the use of heavy equipment, to get the cell tower installed, the utility poles in the ground, and the power and telephone lines strung while the ground is frozen. Then in the spring, work can be done to restore the site and do the work necessary to minimize erosion and stormwater runoff.

Babb will be coordinating a meeting between Stevens, North Atlantic Tower representatives, the town's engineer, selectmen, and the town's attorney to try to come up with a plan to get the project completed that is agreeable to all parties. He said the current penalty that could be assessed is around $40,000, but he thinks half that is reasonable. Boyle said that while he agreed with 90 percent of what Babb was suggesting, he suggested pulling the "letter of credit" and giving the job of overseeing the completion of the stormwater management plan to the selectmen and taking that part out of the hands of the engineering firm. "I don't think you guys know how to deal with erosion control," said Boyle.

The goal, said Selectman Scott Cunningham, is to get through the process to remove the cease and desist order that was put in place when concerns about placement of the road to the tower and stormwater runoff issues were brought forward. The project to bring the cell tower to Freedom Village at its location off Moulton Road began in Fall 2010 when North Atlantic Tower Company first brought the idea to the town's land use boards. If everything goes according to final plans, including site remediation, Stevens said the tower should be functioning in four to six months.

Bill Briggs, whose property abuts the cell tower site, said water is running off the site onto his property and he asked that he be kept informed through each step as the selectmen work through the plan to address the issue. "I am very concerned with a capital V about the water runoff onto my property," he said.

Blue Loon

Jack Rose, chairman of Carroll County Transportation Action Council, requested to selectmen that they support an appropriation of $3,000 to help fund the Blue Loon bus service dial-a-ride program. Currently, Freedom is not serviced by the busses on a set daily schedule but rather the busses will come to Freedom and pick up passengers who call 24 hours in advance. The bus will then take those passengers to the main route where they can catch a bus ride to Conway, Wolfeboro, or Laconia and many points in between. Rose said ridership numbers are increasing. In 2011, 2,407 dial-a-ride trips were taken, in 2012 6,098, and the organization anticipates that number will increase to 7,000 in 2013.

Both Babb and Cunningham agreed that having a bus service that serves Freedom is a beneficial one and seemed agreeable that it deserves support if enough Freedom people are using the services. Rose did not have the exact number of Freedom residents who used the dial-a-ride service in 2012 but agreed to get that information to the selectmen.

As of press time, the town-by-town ridership statistics were not available from Tri-County Community Action, the organization that oversees Carroll County Transportation, but the director, Beverly Raymond, said she had a staff member putting together the town-by-town figures and would be able to release them shortly. As towns are moving through the 2013 budget season in preparation for their town meetings this spring, how many of the anticipated 7,000 riders are from each town is a common question.

Boyle said he has concerns about the bus service and has received "several emails" from people who do as well. "The only way you will survive is with continued use of taxpayer monies," said Boyle.

Rose said the delivery of public bussing transportation is funded through a combination of grants, private donations, and assistance from the towns whose residents use the service. He said if there are concerns about the operation of this service, which is less than two years old, he wants to hear those concerns. "We want it to work and we want you to help us to make it work. It can work for Freedom," said Rose.

At least one Freedom resident appreciates the service enough that she took the time to send a lengthy email to selectmen and asked that it be read into the night's meeting minutes. Shari Bence said she lived in a city and therefore did not own a car. She wanted to move to Freedom, she said, and knowing there was public transit in the form of Blue Loon busses, "was instrumental in my decision to relocate to this beautiful community."

Bence said she uses the Blue Loon service once a week to run errands in Ossipee and Tamworth or to catch a connection to North Conway when needed. "Community transit is simply an imperative in the 21st century. Like owning a computer, it is barely optional. Every individual owning a car is an idea of the past, not the future. Community transit is for communities who are looking ahead and for their long-term economic stability if not growth," she wrote. Bence said over the past few months that she has been relying on the bus service, she has seen ridership grow and she has found the service "impeccable."

Rose said signatures are currently being gathered on a petition to have the Blue Loon's $3,000 funding request added to the 2013 town warrant for voters to consider at town meeting in March.

Other meeting news

Also at their Jan. 7 meeting, Freedom selectmen voted to add a warrant articles to this year's town meeting warrant for the purchase of a voting machine that counts ballots, and a new dump truck with plow for the town's highway department. The full warrant is set to be completed during the first week of February. What will not be in the proposed 2013 budget is a request to return to having a full-time fire chief. Cubby Brooks was appointed as the town's part-time fire chief last year after the departure of the town's previous full-time chief. Selectmen said keeping the position part-time for now is an economic benefit to the town and as long as the needs are being met, as they currently are, they see no need to return the position to a full-time one.

The selectmen voted to move forward with the engineering work necessary to replace a large culvert on Ossipee Lake Road near Camp Calumet.

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