by Doug McClure
This article first appeared in this week’s edition of the Hardwick Gazette
HARDWICK – Days after public outcry prompted AT&T to petition the Public Utility Commission to dismiss its bid for a tower on Buffalo Mountain, landowner Gary Bellavance posted to a forum: “I’ve decided to clear cut Buffalo mountain.”
The Bellavance property, he said, spans 40 acres of the Mountain. He wrote “What bothered me most was the fact that people can tell you what to do and how you need to manage your land. This is land I pay taxes on.”
In an interview Monday he said, “I think I’m going to have to [clear-cut]. It’s my woods. I guess people that don’t pay property taxes have a bigger say?” Now that the tower is off the table, logging the acreage may help Bellavance recoup some of his financial losses, he said. In his forum post, Bellavance said he found it ironic that when he put out a request for interested loggers, a town official suggested contacting Glover logging company.
He said he is in contact with “several” loggers and the financial implications were not the only reason for his decision. He said he was shocked that a select board member would start a motion telling A&T they could not use the public Buffalo Mountain Road as the town can’t say who can or cannot access public roads.
Bellavance said many misrepresentations were made by those protesting the tower and he was upset that use of his property was being dictated by people who didn’t pay for the land. He said his family was one of the original Hardwick families while other protestors had falsely laid claim to original family status to elevate their importance.
Bellavance said he believed the opposition was due in part to the fact that AT&T, a large corporation, was behind the tower and showed an interest in Hardwick. He said without the tower, Hardwick would continue to lose its young people and businesses. He said he had spoken with business owners who wanted the tower.
“The schools are doing a great job,” he said, “but when the kids graduate there’s nothing there but minimum-wage jobs. I’ve got three boys and they’ll have to leave [Hardwick]. There’s nothing here.”
He commented that he knew the family from 2004’s Bridgman Hill tower controversy mentioned in last week’s article. The family said at the time that it was leaving Hardwick for good due to the lack of modern technology and interest in solving that problem. “His kids left the area,” Bellavance said. “There’s no way for growth here as long as the town keeps doing what they’re doing.”
He remembered back in the 1990s, when NYNEX wanted to build a tower on Buffalo Mountain the idea was met with backlash. “Some of the people protesting were from East Hardwick and Walden. I’ve got pretty good eyesight, but I can’t see either of those places [from my property].”
He compared the tower’s demise to the departure of Caledonia Spirits as another example of the town’s self-sabotaging behavior when it came to job opportunities. The company relocated to Montpelier after it could not find a site for its expansion. Caledonia Spirits now employs over 70 at its Montpelier facility.
Bellavance said that initially, “AT&T approached me saying they could get better service.” He said he looked at the coverage maps the company provided and it was “pretty clear” to him that the tower would provide much-needed coverage to current dead zones. “It really is also a health and safety issue,” said Bellavance. As a former member of Hardwick Rescue for ten years, he said he had experienced firsthand just how many coverage gaps this area has for first responders’ communications, and in some areas within town limits, the radios just don’t work.
“It’s 2020,” he said, “and police radios don’t work there.”
“Those people who have protested have not offered to pay my taxes,” he said. “I’ve got to pay those taxes, and the town tells me I can’t have a tower. If you want to preserve the mountain, buy the mountain.”
The Hardwick Gazette is a weekly newspaper covering ten towns in the Hardwick area. For more information on the AT&T tower cancellation, see hardwickgazette.com.