ROXBURY — Roxbury and Byron officials met Tuesday morning with emergency responders and a communications consultant from Gray to figure out how to enhance public safety.

Both towns have long been dead zones for cellphone and emergency communications coverage. After discussing the problems, the officials decided to contact the state and write a “compelling” letter to cellular service carriers that emphasizes why the area needs cellphone and emergency communication services.

They will ask officials for Oxford and Franklin counties, area emergency responders and town and tourism officials to gather information about the problems and needs, get legislators involved and combine the data into one letter.

Some problems include snowmobile, all-terrain vehicle and motor vehicle accidents, backcountry rescues and forest and brush fires for which responders have a tough time getting to the correct locations because they can’t contact dispatchers in Paris or Gray from Roxbury and Byron.

“It’s very frustrating,” former Byron fire Chief Bob Susbury said. “I’d hear firetrucks coming and my (firefighter) pager hasn’t even gone off yet.”

Susbury said Byron doesn’t have dial-up or broadband Internet access or even cable television, but it’s fast becoming a popular destination for recreation and a conduit for people heading through Roxbury and Byron to Rangeley.

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“We need to get something going,” Roxbury Board of Selectmen Chairman John Sutton said. “The way it works now is, if you can see the cell tower on Black Mountain, you have cellphone service. If you can’t see it, you have no cell service.”

Sutton said when Record Hill Wind installed its meteorological tower and left it there after eventually building a 22-turbine wind farm in Roxbury, “we thought it would be a no-brainer for somebody to come along and put a cellphone tower on the meteorological tower.”

The tower has fiber-optic cable and electrical power, Sutton said.

Gordon Gamble of Roxbury and Wagner Forest Management said the meteorological tower is permanent. The tower is on a little road to the west of turbine No. 7. Both said Verizon was involved in the work.

Gamble said Record Hill Wind was receptive then to allowing emergency services communications equipment on the tower “and they could be open to it again for emergency services.”

Sutton said Verizon kept telling selectmen it would put one in the following year, but it never happened. In 2010, Roxbury selectmen convened a meeting with Oxford County officials to try and jump-start an effort to no avail.

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Retired Woodstock fire Chief Geff Inman said a Verizon engineer who is a ham radio operator told him that Roxbury and Newry need to create “a compelling letter” from fire departments, emergency responders, county and municipal officials and recreation officials about why a cell carrier should erect a tower or towers in the area.

“You have to tie whatever you do to safety,” Inman said. “Start with a compelling letter and push for the safety part of the public. That’s what we’re really looking for.”

He said cell carriers aren’t willing to invest $800,000 in towers and equipment in the area.

“To develop a site, there’s got to be revenue to pay for it,” Richard Davol, president of Communication Consulting Service of Gray, said.

“What bothers me is who is going to come up with the $800,000,” Sutton said. “We just want the starter kit.”

Inman suggested conducting a study for a communications tower atop Old Turk Mountain, which has an elevation of 2,411 feet, and would better cover Roxbury and Byron.

Davol said it wouldn’t be a problem to install emergency services communication equipment on the wind farm’s meteorological tower.

“Cellular is a whole different animal,” Davol said. “If cell carrier companies don’t feel it’s a moneymaker, it’s not high on their priority list.”

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