Town dialing in cellular proposal

A cellular phone service could be up and running throughout the Rainy River District by September as Fort Frances looks to hook up with five partners to operate the service.
And that could mean an estimated revenue of $300,000-$400,000 for the town within its sixth year of operation.
Mayor Glenn Witherspoon said Thunder Bay Telephone, Atikokan, Fort Frances, and the Rainy River Future Development Corp. were putting forth a proposal to the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund to get $1.5 million for the $4.5-million telecommunications project that would provide cellular phone service from Thunder Bay to the Manitoba border.
If that funding comes through, the town would be looking at a $1 million contribution and Atikokan $500,000. The other $1.5 million would come from Thunder Bay Telephone.
So far, the RRFDC hasn’t been approached to commit dollars to the project.
“Thunder Bay Telephone is very anxious to get this started. They want to be a partner,” Mayor Witherspoon told the committee of the whole Monday night as he asked councillors to support the concept.
He added if the town debentured its portion of the project, revenues from the service would cover the payments. And the town would be in a surplus situation by year six.
But there still is work to be done before the Heritage Fund will consider the project. The economic development offices in both Fort Frances and Atikokan are putting together a business plan jointly to be submitted for consideration.
“Once we get the final business plan done, then we have to go back before councils,” explained Geoff Gillon, community investment manager with the Rainy River Future Development Corp., noting Thunder Bay Telephone already completed an engineering study.
“Once we get the final business plan done, then we have to go back to councils,” Gillon added. “We would like to have the business plan before the Heritage Fund as soon as possible.”
While they’re looking for district-wide support, it isn’t known yet if other municipalities will be asked to partner up financially on the project.
Originally, the Public Utilities Commission here was spearheading the project. But Gillon said by going regional, the project was more likely to see Heritage Fund dollars.
“If the application is received in a favourable way, the initial tower construction would be from Fort Frances to Rainy River,” Mayor Witherspoon said.
“One thing I have to do is I have to talk to our staff sergeant, Hugh Dennis, and get the proper names of who would be in charge of security on the OPP towers,” he added.
The mayor said if a communications building was built at one of the towers, that probably would trim $500,000 off the project’s cost.