MILLINOCKET – A battle over land where a $65 million ecotourism resort is slated to be built has forced James Talbott to move antennae for his 50,000-watt radio station WSYY 94.9 FM to a new home, he said Wednesday.
Talbott is in negotiations with landowners to purchase land off Nicatou Road in Medway for a 600-foot tower, and possibly a studio, after moving five of his radio station’s 10 antennae from land he leased on Hammond Ridge to a 300-foot tower on Lake Road about two miles from Millinocket Municipal Airport last month.
The antenna will not stay on Lake Road because it is doubtful that the Federal Aviation Administration would allow a 600-foot tower so close to the end of a runway, Talbott said.
“We have five other antennae that need to be placed,” Talbott said during a telephone interview from his business in California. “We are looking to put them in Medway or maybe sell them.”
At their present location, the five antennae get about 80 percent of the coverage the full array at Hammond Ridge covered, Talbott said. The radio station reaches listeners from Bangor to Houlton.
Talbott had the antennae moved after a dispute with landowner, businessman and Town Councilor Matthew Polstein, who is developing a $65 million ecotourism resort just outside Millinocket. The Land Use Regulation Commission voted unanimously in June to rezone the 244 acres, which includes Hammond Ridge.
Polstein’s plans include an 80-room lodge, conference center and other upscale tourism facilities. He hopes to begin construction next year
Talbott expressed suspicions that Polstein wanted him to leave his equipment there, offering to buy it from Talbott for about $3,000, so he could lease the tower site to cell phone companies.
“He didn’t want us to own 4 or 5 acres up there. He wanted us off the land,” Talbott said.
Polstein disagreed, saying that while he might eventually put a cellular tower on the property, Talbott’s tower was too old and inadequate for that use. Polstein also extended the year-to-year lease arrangement Talbott had with the previous landowner, Katahdin Forest Management, for 18 months after it lapsed.
Talbott could have continued the lease until May 31, 2008, and possibly beyond had he chosen to, Polstein said.
The root of their quarrel, Polstein said, was the piles of roofing shingles, utility poles and other material left on his land during and after the removal of the tower and other radio station property.
“He left a mess on the property in disagreement with the agreement we had,” Polstein said.
Talbott called that absurd, saying that Polstein didn’t want wood utility poles and other biodegradable items left in the woods, and for a time refused to allow further cleanup work to occur.
An e-mail correspondence between them stretching over several weeks shows Talbott angrily denouncing Polstein, but according to Talbott’s own attorney, Polstein was within his legal rights in his actions, Talbott said. At one point, Talbott said, he challenged Polstein to a debate during a radio broadcast.
Talbott eventually agreed to pay $5,000 in cleanup and legal fees, he and Polstein said.
“I had to pay $5,000 to get access to what I already owned,” Talbott said tartly.
The Polstein-Talbott dispute mirrors similar contentiousness around the state. Land ownership changes and leaseholders such as Talbott, who enjoyed a comfortable relationship with the former Great Northern Paper Co. for 20 years, find themselves having spent hundreds of thousands of dollars improving property built on land that they do not own.
“Business is not paternalistic to the town anymore. I think that’s wrong,” Talbott said, describing his radio station as providing a community service. “If they [landowners] are only going to sell land to people that they like, then how is this town going to grow and get somewhere?”
No businessman in his right mind, Polstein replied, would leave a 4- or 5-acre island amid 244 acres.
Talbott’s next move: to finish negotiations and possibly buy the land. Combining all the radio station elements onto one property could cost as much as $900,000, he said, although he might be able to buy a used tower for $95,000.