Unicel trying to expand Williston coverage

July 17, 2008
By Tim Simard
Observer staff

Those annoying dropped calls that happen so frequently along the northern end of North Williston Road could soon be a thing of the past. The wireless phone company Unicel is looking to install equipment that would boost a signal through a narrow stretch along the Winooski River, which also encompasses a section of Route 117 over the river in Essex.

Unicel is looking to use the silos and farm buildings on Mike Fontaine's farm as a structure to place its wireless equipment. According to the project's Act 250 documents, plans would include the installation of six panel antennas mounted to the side of a 55-foot tall silo, a 10-by-12-foot equipment shelter located between the farm's silos, an ice bridge to protect the cable outside the silo from winter weather, and telephone and electric lines.

William Dodge, a lawyer for the Downs Rachlin Martin PLLC law firm that is acting as outside counsel for Unicel, said the company is working with Fontaine on presenting the equipment proposal to the town. He said Fontaine has been easy to work with.

"We're in the process of working on it, but it's been generally positive," Dodge said.

Observer photo by Tim Simard
Cellular wireless equipment rests near the top of the silos at the Martel Farm on Mountain View Road. Unicel has proposed the installation of similar equipment on a silo on Mike Fontaine's farm in North Williston.

Fontaine said representatives from Unicel came to his farm and did some research in the area to find a good cellular antenna location. He said he hasn't had to do much work and is hopeful the town agrees to the wireless communication equipment. He said the equipment would be hardly noticeable.

"Everything is going well," Fontaine said. "They've done all the research and studies they need to do."

Along with the Unicel equipment, Fontaine and his brother, Dan Fontaine, are in the process of subdividing part of his land for the proposed 49-unit Settler's Crossing development. Fontaine's property is located in the town's agricultural-rural zoning district.

Dodge said he was not at liberty to discuss when Unicel would like the cell antennas installed or for how much the company would rent the silo space from Fontaine. Fontaine said he'd like to keep the rent per month cost "personal."

The Martel Farm off Mountain View Road has similar wireless equipment installed on two of its three silos. Pat Martel said the equipment is so nondescript "you wouldn't even know it's there."

Martel said she and her husband, Andre Martel, let the wireless company Nextel install the wireless devices seven years ago. Since then, U.S. Cellular has taken over the rent, Pat Martel said.

"They've come through on all the contracts and have done everything they're supposed to," Pat Martel said.

Andre Martel declined to say how much they earned in rent per month, but that it "pays for all the taxes."

Fontaine and a representative of Unicel are scheduled to present the preliminary plans to the Development Review Board at its next meeting on Tuesday, July 22 at 7:30 p.m. at Town Hall.