County Questions Tower Lease Deal

SNOW HILL – County officials opted to delay a tower lease agreement with Verizon Wireless in an effort to explore broadband Internet possibilities.

When presented with a request from Verizon Wireless to lease tower space at the Ocean Pines Wastewater Treatment Plant, the Worcester County Commissioners voted to approve the agreement only if it gave the county the right to use part of the tower. The commissioners believe tower space could be useful as the county works to expand Internet access.

“It’s time we moved into the 21st century and started getting some broadband around this county,” Commissioner Ted Elder said.

On Tuesday, Public Works Director John Tustin presented the commissioners with a proposed agreement with Verizon to lease land at the wastewater treatment plant in Ocean Pines for construction of a freestanding communications tower. The tower was proposed for a 50-by-50-foot space not currently being used by the county’s water and wastewater division.

Under the proposed agreement, which was set for five years with potential for renewal, Verizon would pay the county $24,000 a year.

Commissioner Chip Bertino asked if it would make sense to include a provision in the proposed lease for the county to use some of the tower space, as officials were working to expand internet access throughout Worcester County.

Maureen Howarth, the county’s attorney, said the tower proposed for the Ocean Pines Wastewater Treatment Plant would not help the county in that regard, as there had to be a certain distance between Verizon’s antennas and any potential county antennas. She said that reserving tower space for the county was, however, something that could be considered in future leases.

“To look at each lease as these come before us and whether we would maybe want to reserve space, yes, I think that we should look at every single one of these that comes before us to see if we would need space for emergency services or maybe a project such as broadband,” she said.

Commissioner Jim Bunting said the he still thought this particular lease should include a provision for county use.

“We don’t know what technology’s going to be and with the Internet situation we have in that whole area I’d hate for us to have a tower that we couldn’t use,” he said. “I think this lease should have something in it that gives us the right … to use part of the tower. I’m not going to vote for it unless it has that in the lease.”

The commissioners agreed to approve the proposed lease if a provision for county tower space was worked in. Depending on negotiations with Verizon, the proposal could return to the commissioners for further review.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.