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Shelburne Fire Tower could be new wireless Internet link

SHELBURNE — This week, selectmen heard a plan by an Internet service provider that wants to link the MassBroadband 123 network in Memorial Hall to Shelburne’s stone Fire Tower — providing free Internet service for Town Hall and fixed wireless service of 5 megabytes per second to future subscribers in Shelburne Center.

The decision on whether Hilltown Networks can use the Shelburne Fire Tower, however, may rest with the state Department of Conservation and Recreation.

Christopher Gray of Hilltown Networks submitted a plan to install a system that would provide “last-mile” Internet service, using the town’s broadband connection; his proposal has gotten the support of the town’s Cable and Technology Committee.

Eve Strother, a lawyer for the state DCR, believes the department owns the rights to “the cap” or cabin atop the stone tower. In a letter to Selectman Joseph Judd, Strother said DCR’s preceding state agencies built all the cabins placed on the tower for fire observance since 1912.

“The fire observation work is important enough to require careful use of the cabin space and external attachments,” she wrote. “Wind loads, floor space, heat and other emissions, signal interference, attachment types and other technical information should be carefully considered. Any current equipment in and on the tower has been and must be approved by DCR,” she added.

Strother said DCR bought property surrounding the tower from the Gould family, owning a 54-foot radius around the tower and 20 feet in the air around all sides of the tower. “I will ask our archivist to research our records for any written agreement with the Massamet Tower Committee, the town or the prior owners,” she wrote. “May I ask, does the town have a deed from the prior owners?”

Judd said he will have to find out whether the town has a deed. The original tower was built in 1909, but burned and had to be rebuilt in 1926.

Strother said any commercial requests to use DCR facilities must be reviewed to assess possible environmental impact or interference with any DCR plans for the area.

Also, out of fairness, she said, if a commercial use is to be made available for a DCR location, the department would have to advertise that such a use is available and that DCR is willing to receive proposals from other groups. “Although permits are occasionally offered directly, it is rare for commercial opportunities, she said. “DCR does not currently offer the cabin at this tower as a commercially used space, so a proposal from a commercial entity would have to be reviewed, developed further, and posted.”

She ended the letter by saying that Warwick had an existing agreement with DCR to use the Mount Grace tower for radio equipment, and the town was able to change that agreement to accommodate additional equipment. She said the agreement was thoroughly discussed and that the town and system operator now pay a small fee for use of the tower, for electricity, cooling and security.

Selectmen agreed to invite a DCR representative to a meeting later this month, so that they and Gray can discuss possible options. Also, this would give town officials more time to research property deeds regarding the tower.

Gray said he hopes to be able to work on the system while there is still foliage on the trees, because that gives the truest picture of where the wireless service will reach.

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