Blue Ridge Towers has responded to a lawsuit from the Bedford County Broadband Authority over management of a broadband tower built in Big Island, stating the authority itself has breached contract in shortchanging the company.
Blue Ridge Towers constructed multiple towers in Bedford County as part of its broadband expansion and is currently buidling towers in Franklin County.
Bedford County’s broadband authority filed its lawsuit in Bedford Circuit Court in late January, alleging breach of contract, fraud and other liabilities. The claim lays out different legal scenarios that demand different combinations of monetary damages and court interventions.
In efforts to bring better internet access to Bedford County residents, the authority contracted with BRT in February 2019 to build wireless towers throughout the county. The lawsuit claims BRT wrongly claimed ownership of the tower in Big Island and tried to “extort” the authority into paying more than what was initially agreed upon to take ownership of the tower.
In its response last month, BRT claims the authority is shortchanging BRT of $3.5 million as laid out in contracts. It states that terms of the transfer are still under negotiation and that it always meant to turn the property over to the authority “and still intends to do so.”
Instead, it claims, the authority is “attempting to extract an enormous windfall” by denying BRT a proper refund for purchasing the tower site, as described in its contract, along with proper commission payment for its work setting up provider contracts at the site.
Part of the broadband authority’s lawsuit focuses on leases BRT signed with US Cellular and T-Mobile “that it had no right or authority to enter,” according to the authority. The suit demands those leases be transferred over to the authority and that BRT hand over money it’s made off those leases.
But BRT states the authority directed it into those contracts and authority representatives were frequently directly involved with them. Attached to its response, BRT includes several documents, email chains and meeting minutes that mention those contracts.
BRT’s response references statements from Allen Boaz and Lee Walker, both members of the county’s now-dissolved Broadband Advisory Committee, and former Bedford County Supervisor Andy Dooley. The three men state the authority greenlit BRT’s contract negotiations with T-Mobile and US Cellular.
Walker referenced a conversation with Bedford County Administrator Robert Hiss in which Hiss said at first the county and authority didn’t want to pay BRT commission, which was later amended to offering 10% to 11% commission, lower than the 15% to 20% BRT asked for.
“Mr. Hiss told me that the Authority and Bedford County’s Board of Supervisors were now of the opinion that they paid BRT a lot of money for the construction of the wireless towers, so they expected BRT to gift for free its leases with the cellular carriers,” Walker wrote in his statement.
BRT claims in its response that the authority breached contract and “engaged in misrepresentation and deception,” and asks for the lawsuit to be dismissed.