Friday, December 6, 2013
STARKS — A woman opposed to the construction of a cellphone tower near her home is facing an assault charge after allegedly spitting into a selectman’s face last month.
In this file photo from July 15, abutting landowners, from left, Elizabeth Smedberg and Harry and Cindy Brown, were expressing their concern about a proposed cellphone tower on Abijah Hill Road in Starks. Cindy Brown has since been charged with assault for allegedly spitting on a selectman.
Staff photo by David Leaming
Since the tower proposal was first brought to the Planning Board in June, it has been a source of controversy that has divided the town of about 640 people; but it also highlights a larger issue about change in developing rural areas.
Cindy E. Brown, 53, of Starks, was summoned Saturday after she was accused of spitting into the face of First Selectman Paul Frederic on Aug. 21 outside a Planning Board meeting, Deputy Chief Dale Lancaster, of the Somerset County Sheriff’s Department, said Tuesday.
Police have been investigating the incident since sheriff’s deputies responded to a report of a disturbance at the meeting, at which the board approved a building permit application for the tower, Lancaster said.
Brown and her husband, Harry Brown, have opposed construction of the tower, which would be about 700 feet from their home on Abijah Hill Road. Selectmen, meanwhile, have endorsed the tower, saying it would provide better emergency response service, communication and Internet service in town.
As development in rural areas becomes increasingly common, people who are affected by it or who live within sight of it are more likely to be upset, said Tom Doak, executive director of the Small Woodland Owner’s Association of Maine, a nonprofit organization that helps small property owners protect and preserve their land.
Frustration can come from people who live or travel in rural areas with cellphone deadspots and Internet access problems, he said. Other people tend to get frustrated with out-of-state developers proposing projects in their area. Cellphone tower opponents in Starks have spoken out strongly against Massachusetts-based Bay Communications II LLC’s tower proposal.
“I think there’s an inherent kind of friction point between the better cellphone coverage and living in rural Maine and not seeing those kind of structures,” Doak said.
When development — including cellphone towers, wind farms or even new home construction — changes or leads to restrictions on a neighboring property, problems among landowners or even between landowners and town officials are likely, Doak said.
One thing that can help alleviate such conflict is neighbors having conversations about how development might affect other properties, said Doak.
He said he was not surprised about objections to the cell tower, because it can change the visual landscape.
“I don’t think its rural people not wanting to embrace change as much as the fact that it might be less peaceful, quiet or remote after some of those changes take place. People go there to get away from everything, and anything that happens changes that for them. People react to that,” he said.
The alleged assault on First Selectman Paul Frederic is just one incident that shows the range of emotional reactions people have had to the tower, which has drawn protesters outside the Town Office, brought some residents to tears and inspired people to speak out of turn or above each other at public meetings and hearings.
Brown said Tuesday that she had no comment on the assault charge, although she has said previously she doesn’t remember it happening.
According to Frederic, 70, he spent most of the day harvesting hay on his farm, stopped at the meeting to see how it was going and was leaving to go eat dinner about 8 p.m. As he was on his way out, he stopped to talk to a resident, he said, and then Brown spit into his face in the Town Office hallway.
He said she never said why she spit at him; but given discussions they’ve had in the past, he said he thinks the incident was related to the Board of Selectmen’s position on the cellphone tower, which it publicly endorsed in a town newsletter. He called the police, and they arrived at the meeting in about 10 minutes, he said.
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