WASON | Supervisors spend $600,000 to get squirrels cellphones | Editorials

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Roger Watson | Editor of the Bristol Herald Courier


In another indication the federal government has provided far too much money to local governments for ‘pandemic relief’, the Washington County Board of Supervisors agreed to spend up to $610,000 this week in a move which seems designed to primarily benefit squirrels with cell phones.

The council voted unanimously to use U.S. bailout funds to pay for a study into the best location to place cellphone towers to serve parts of the Virginia Creeper and Mendota trails that currently have no cell phone service.

The investment of more than half a million dollars does not mean that the region will ever receive broadband or cell phone services. The money is used to hire a company to identify potential locations for the towers, then convince a cellphone provider to build the towers and provide the service. Whether that happens or not is anyone’s guess. The county just bet $600,000 of your money that a private cellphone provider would see the need to spend their money to provide service to some of the more remote areas of the county.

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As these hiking trails become more and more popular and some would say they are overused, do we need to ensure that people can access emails, post selfies on Instagram and work on the Wordle puzzle along every inch of the trail?

The Creeper Trail says it has 100,000 visitors a year. The Mendota Trail does not estimate the number of visitors it has. It’s only partially open at this point, but let’s say for the sake of discussion that it also has 100,000 visitors. This means the supervisors have just agreed to pay $3 per visitor for the remote possibility that they may one day have access to cell phone service on the entirety of the two trails.

Part of the beauty of these trails is the ability to step away from the bonds of society and enjoy nature without the constant worry of text messages, emails and news alerts. County supervisors raised the issue of emergency communications. Although this is a concern, the high price does not seem to make it a good cost/benefit ratio.

While governments can certainly play an encouraging role in the expansion of broadband and mobile phone services, has it become the function of local government to ensure that every inch of its territory is covered by Verizon or T-Mobile? Mobile phone companies and broadband providers are private companies. They are unlikely to invest in a tower in the middle of a national forest used only by outdoor enthusiasts on a mostly seasonal basis.

The Washington County Board of Directors is certainly not the only local government going on a COVID spending spree that doesn’t seem to make much sense. According to a recent Associated Press story, officials in Florida’s Broward County spent part of its $140 million on a luxury hotel with an 11,000 square foot spa. In New York, Dutchess County plans to renovate a $12 million minor league ballpark.

What happened to the fiscal conservatives? They seem to be as rare as a squirrel with a cell phone these days.

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