Chilmark hears cell system proposal
The Chilmark selectmen Tuesday covered a lot of ground and water Tuesday night, hearing discussions about a system that would enhance cell phone service, listening to complaints about the harbor, and receiving a rewritten job description for the shellfish constable. The selectmen took no action on any of the issues, but promised to pursue all of them.
Several residents attended the meeting to ask questions of representatives from GPCS, a public utility which designs, builds, and sells distributed antenna systems (DAS). The company wants to get approval from Aquinnah to start installing a system there, and it hopes to extend it into Chilmark next, chief executive officer Mark Russell said Tuesday. One of the advantages of DAS is that it does not require towers but can be installed on poles similar to utility poles.
Mr. Russell described the system as "a neutral host," which anyone can enter as a leasing agent. "DAS is essentially a wi-fi network," he said. It is not a cell phone service per se but, for a fee, allows users to access their cell phone service.
"If you are a Cingular subscriber, your cell phone would now work," chief operating officer Andrew Nanaa added.
When selectmen asked how the company would make a profit, Mr. Russell said it would expect to get the majority of its revenue on the Vineyard from the hourly, daily, and weekly transient users, mainly the seasonal population and visitors. "The real pizzazz in the revenue stream are the limited time users, the transient population," he said.
The selectmen asked if the company would be dependent on revenue from town emergency departments that could use the network. Although there would be a charge to those departments, Mr. Russell said the company would not be dependent on that revenue. "We're not looking for financial support. We want cooperation," Mr. Russell said.
"It would be attractive to have emergency systems improved," selectman Warren Doty said. "It would be more attractive if it were free."
Residents also wanted to know the number and size of poles needed to operate the system. Mr. Nanaa said he did not know how many poles would be needed in Chilmark yet, as the company is still looking for realistic places in the town to put the antennas, which would be followed by field tests with actual antennas.
Some people were concerned that the antennas would have to be installed on new fiberglass poles rather than on existing utility poles, which are overused, GCPS technical senior RF engineer Davidson Scott said. All of Aquinnah will need a total of 16 poles for the system, he said. "We don't want to put any more infrastructure than is absolutely necessary," he said.
Mr. Russell also gave the selectmen assurances that the new company is financially solid with investors. The selectmen said they have been looking at several companies with proposals for improved cell phone service.
"We're trying to get educated about all the possibilities," selectman J. B. Riggs Parker said, "and to sort out the companies and see which offers the most effective services at the least cost and the most reliability."
Mr. Doty told the GPCS representatives that the board is interested in looking at DAS and in cooperating with Aquinnah and West Tisbury on a system. "We're looking for a nuts and bolts proposal," he said.
Mr. Doty said that any proposals would need approval from voters at town meeting. The selectmen made no decisions on the issue Tuesday, but said they would continue to look at options, including from cell phone companies such as Sprint and Nextel.
A recent proposal from Grain Communications, which is working with the Coast Guard on expanding the communications tower at Peaked Hill, will probably not include cell phone service, selectman Frank Fenner reported. He said the company told him it now plans to concentrate on services to emergency and rescue personnel instead.
In another matter, Chilmark resident William H. Smith had a list of seven concerns about docks and ramps at Menemsha Harbor, as well as other harbor issues. The list included a newly built ramp at Quitsa Pond that, he said, makes it almost impossible to launch his boats during any tide. "I'm scared to death when a hurricane comes through how it will be," he said.
Mr. Smith also complained that dinghies are tied up where, he said, they don't belong, and the shellfish propagation agent's boat was tied up where boats are prohibited. He said there are loose boards on the floating docks, and access to the floating dock near the Coast Guard station is difficult during high tide. He also recommended installing more and better marked safety ladders on all the docks.
Selectman Frank Fenner, representative from the selectmen on the harbor committee, said he had already looked at some of the problems and is looking into all of them with the harbormaster.
Mr. Smith concluded his comments noting that the harbor is not as full of boats as it used to be at this time of the summer. "The past week it was like a ghost town," he said. "I'm wondering if we've gotten Menemsha Harbor so unfriendly that people are just skipping it."
He questioned whether the fewer boats was due to the town's new policies of not taking reservations, limiting boat size, and not allowing boats to stay in the harbor more than two weeks. Mr. Smith said the reservation policy makes it difficult for boaters to know whether they will have a mooring when they get to Menemsha.
Mr. Parker said reservations made the harbor hard to get into, and he said there is still a strong demand for moorings.
Mr. Doty said the new policies instituted last year weren't intended to be unfriendly, but were made in an effort to provide more access to more people. He said the policy could be revisited in the fall after assessing how this year goes.
The selectmen also received from the personnel board Tuesday a new job description for shellfish constable Stanley Larsen, based on the selectmen's recommendation two weeks ago to cut Mr. Larsen's hours from 20 to 16 a week. The rationale was that some of his duties had been transferred to the new shellfish propagation agent.
The selectmen said they had not had time to read the description and would take action on it at their Aug. 7 meeting.
Mr. Larsen, who was at Tuesday's meeting and had protested the selectmen's action, said he had some problems with the new description. "Some of the language is vague and doesn't cover all the requirements and not all the duties," he said. "I don't think this covers the whole job.... You know this job entails a lot more than looking at people's baskets and asking if they have a license." He added that he was on the shellfish committee that formed the new department, and there had been no discussion of cutting his hours and benefits. He has held the job for nearly 20 years.
Residents Steve Bernier and Judy Jardin also questioned the selectmen's proposal to cut Mr. Larsen's hours. "The talk on the street does not sound good on this," Mr. Bernier said. "We just heard a job description that makes no sense." He pointed out that the town just hired an officer to help grow the shellfishing program, while the constable's hours were cut.
Mr. Bernier also said the constable's hours were never brought up at the town meeting when the shellfish department and officer were approved. He said he believed the selectmen were moving too quickly on the matter. "This could use a little more airing," he said. "I'm asking you to reconsider the process and the outcome to the community."
Ms. Jardin said she recalled that at the town meeting, the propagation agent was approved, without going back and making the necessary budget adjustments.
Mr. Doty defended the board's actions, saying a lot of effort was put into establishing the new shellfish program. He said the selectmen decided that using the constable on the propagation program would not work, so they put the new agent solely in charge of propagation. He said he felt the constable's job could be done in 10 hours a week, but the selectmen decided to make it an even two hours a day.
Mr. Fenner said the selectmen didn't know what they were going to do before the shellfish department article was approved at town meeting. "After the vote, we got direction," he said.
In other business, the selectmen approved several proposals by Ms. Jardin, Vineyard wellness coordinator for the Cape Cod Municipal Health Group, for town employees. The programs would include various health screenings, such as mammograms, prostate tests, and colonoscopies. The town will be reimbursed up to $200 for each employee who participates in the programs.
The selectmen also appointed Clarissa Allen to the beach committee, to replace Ian Fein, who has moved off-Island.