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Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, January 29, 2023
HomeNewsArchivesWest End Residents Irate Over "Communication Breakdown"

West End Residents Irate Over "Communication Breakdown"

Officials from the Bureau of Information Technology verbally clashed with angry West End residents at the Fortuna Multipurpose Center Tuesday evening in what seemed to be a miscommunication over communication systems.
Officials said they were there to talk about plans to improve communications for V.I. first responders, saying that emergency workers have been complaining that they cannot communicate with each other when they are on that part of the island.
However, residents thought the meeting was going to be an update on a controversial communications tower that they have been fighting since 2008.
The misunderstanding caused emotions to run high at the very start of the meeting. Angry residents pointed to the paperwork handed out at the meeting entitled “e911 tower hearing,” asking why the word ‘tower’ was used if it was not about the communications tower.
“That was a typo,” acting Bureau Director Paul Arnold Jr. told the crowd. “This is not us telling you anything about ‘we’re erecting a tower.’”
However, he and the crowd differed over the definition of "tower." The paperwork handed out cited plans to “erect a small structure” to install 911 antennas in the Fortuna area.
Resident Maurice Kurg asked how small the structure would be. Arnold said about 50 feet. Kurg replied that there is already a 60-foot structure behind the fire station—lying on its side unused because of a six-month moratorium imposed by Gov. John deJongh Jr. in 2008.
Kurg then asked what happened to the tower rules that were drafted during the moratorium, but never approved through the Senate. He said under those rules, the structure that the bureau was suggesting would not even be allowed. Arnold responded the moratorium could be waived, prompting a resident to ask, “Who’s going to waive it?”
“We’ll see,” said acting Bureau Deputy Director Angel Turnbull, setting off angry gasps and more yelling.
Residents said they were also angry because they didn’t know about the meeting until the last minute.
“I’d like to make a point,” said Kurg. “Ninety-nine percent of the people who would have wanted to make this meeting, probably didn’t know about it.” He said he had just heard about it 15 minutes before it started. He said West End Alliance President Sheri Meyers had just heard about the meeting Wednesday and could not attend because she was off-island.
As Arnold tried to talk about the first responder problem, attendees angrily cut him off, saying he should call the meeting off and reschedule when Meyers is back in St. Thomas. Several people got up and left.
Others questioned that there was even a problem concerning first-responder communication. One man said that dead spots are a common problem here on the island – something that everyone has learned to deal with.
Kurg suggested that responders switch to AT&T coverage, because he has heard that coverage is good throughout the island. “They could easily be provided with the phones,” he said.
“That’s something we could probably look at,” Arnold said.
The meeting came to an end when the calls from the audience overpowered Arnold’s voice.
“The meeting is adjourned?” one person asked. “The meeting never happened,” another responded.
And as most residents walked away, a few formed a small knot around Arnold. “The government doesn’t have a good history here,” one woman told him. “Not you, personally, but you represent the government.”
“I think that some of the miscommunication is that we are trying to put something up that wasn’t supposed to be up,” Arnold said after the meeting. But, he said, the government has no stake in putting cell phone towers anywhere. “The government doesn’t control that. All we control is 911.”
Arnold said that the bureau sent out a notice about the meeting last Wednesday with notice given to all local media. He said he hoped in the future to give the presentation he had planned, but with more notice given to residents.
The battle over a permanent tower slated to go up on a seven-acre piece of land in Estate Fortuna led to the governor imposing a six-month moratorium on the construction of any related building or earth change permits in December of 2008.
At a meeting with West End residents in 2008, deJongh told residents that the government had considered attaching antennas to the proposed tower, but decided instead to use existing cell sites.

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