UPDATE After facing a breach of contract lawsuit filed by the Bedford County (VA) Broadband Authority last month, Blue Ridge Towers (BRT) is battling the action in court. As News Advance reports, BRT has challenged that the Broadband Authority underpaid them to the tune of $3.5 million, an amount BRT says was a contractual obligation. The Broadband Authority, according to BRT’s challenge, used county tax money and state grant funds to build a cell tower on land not owned by Bedford County near the Georgia Pacific Plant.
The matter of who owns the Big Island tower site near the plant is at the core of the debate with both BRT and Georgia Pacific, operating under the jurisdiction of the Bedford County Broadband Authority, claiming ownership. Legal documents presented to Inside Towers show BRT as the site’s purchaser, though BRT contends that it always meant to hand over the land to the Broadband Authority, “and still intends to.” However, BRT has accused the Authority of “attempting to extract an enormous windfall” by not reimbursing them for the purchase.
“These two leases could have produced Bedford County over $1,300,000 in income,” Smith told Inside Towers. According to Smith, after initially including the 20 percent commission in the original contract draft prepared by Bedford County, the tower management portion which covered the lease commissions was removed from the contract offered to BRT.
“Even after we obtained a second cellular carrier lease with UScellular, at the direction of the Bedford County Broadband Authority, no arrangements were made to pay the industry-standard commission on the leases,” Smith said. The Bedford Broadband Authority claims that BRT did not have the right or authority to purchase the land the tower was built on, or to obtain the two leases on the property for cellular service.
“While the Bedford County Broadband Authority was fixated on money, their civic duty to serve the residents of Bedford County appears to have taken a back seat,” Smith said. “Our position is, their assertions are inaccurate. Additional court pleadings ask that the damages claimed by the Bedford Broadband Authority be adjusted to the actual ‘Tax and Grant’ funds expended by Bedford County, at which point BRT will reimburse Bedford County for its costs in building the cell tower on BRT’s land.”
Smith said BRT will continue to allow Brisnet, a wireless internet provider, access to the tower to support the Bedford County backbone Broadband Plan so that the residents of the county are not negatively affected.
“The most unfortunate result of this process however,” Smith said, “is that the original worthy goal of finally providing the infrastructure necessity of good reliable internet service to so many who have been deprived, has now been a casualty of this conflict.”
By Jim Fryer, Inside Towers Managing Editor