Martha's Vineyard Commission inflates balloon request for arena
As representatives from the MV Arena (MVA) learned last week, one never knows which way the wind - or the Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC) - may blow. From a weather balloon to birds, the continued public hearing regarding the MVA's proposal to erect a combination wind turbine and wireless communications tower met with some unexpected challenges at last Thursday night's MVC meeting.
The MVA's proposal for a 165-foot-tall wind turbine that also will serve as a wireless communications tower is undergoing review by the MVC as a development of regional impact (DRI). MVA, the Island's only ice rink, is located on Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road, across from the regional high school. The arena is owned by a nonprofit community organization. Offering year-round skating, the MVA is the Island's third largest energy consumer, after schools and grocery stores.
The proposed wind turbine project is projected to save the MVA about 20 percent in energy costs. If approved, the arena will own the tower and lease space on it to cell phone companies, which is expected to generate annual revenues of about $20,000 to $50,000, Jevon Rego, president of MVA.
Because of questions raised at the first session of the public hearing on August 14 regarding the tower's unique dual-purpose function, the commissioners requested written answers to several questions and continued the public hearing to September 11.
Although it has been about two months since the MVA application began wending its way through the MVC process, due to what DRI analyst Paul Foley said was an oversight, the commissioners' requisite site visit had not been scheduled. A few minutes before last Thursday night's meeting started, MVC executive director Mark London suggested to Mr. Rego that perhaps he should set up a meteorological balloon at the ice arena at the same height as the proposed wind turbine tower - 165 feet - on the day of the site visit.
A similar balloon had been used at Martha's Vineyard Hospital when the commissioners made a site visit there during the DRI process, Mr. London said, suggesting that perhaps the hospital still had the balloon and would loan it out. Mr. Rego politely agreed he would do his best to comply, given that the commissioners scheduled the site visit at 8 am on Wednesday this week, just six days after last week's meeting. Easier said than done, it turns out.
In a follow-up phone call on Monday, Mr. London said he did not know what the balloons cost, but he thought they were inexpensive. "If we're going to do this more often, we may buy one," he said, checking prices online while on the phone. "The cheapest one is $4.99 on eBay - regular ones range from $19.99 to $25 - there's a pink one for $27.90." As for the helium, he surmised that anyone on the Island who sells helium-inflated party balloons should be able to provide some to Mr. Rego.
In a phone call on Tuesday night, Mr. Rego recounted the deflating saga of his thwarted balloon quest. Getting a jump on things last Friday, the day after the meeting, Mr. Rego said he ordered a balloon online.
He thought he was all set until Monday, when he received an email notice that the balloon was on backorder.
Wondering what to do next with the site visit only two days away, Mr. Rego called DRI analyst Paul Foley, who suggested that he try tracking down someone at the hospital to find out if anyone kept the balloon they used.
To his surprise, Mr. Rego was able to reach the right person, who located the balloon for him. Thinking he was in the homestretch, he set out in search of helium, which he found at SBS.
As Mr. Rego took out the balloon to see how much helium he would need, he discovered, "It was gi-normous - it would take a couple of people to hold it down once it's filled - and it takes three tanks' worth of helium to fill it."
Already stunned by the balloon's size, Mr. Rego got another shock when he found out the helium would cost him about $400.
At 3:30 pm Mr. Foley called to remind him he needed to put stakes out at the site to outline the area where the wind turbine will be erected. Knowing he had to finish arrangements for the balloon and had a meeting to attend, Mr. Rego said he decided he would have to put the stakes out early Wednesday morning.
At this point he had spent four hours on the project, away from his house-painting business. At 5:30 pm, his balloon quest nearly complete, Mr. Rego remembered that the person who helped him at the hospital had asked if he had informed anyone at the Martha's Vineyard Airport about flying a weather balloon the next morning at 165 feet in the air.
He called Airport Manager Sean Flynn, who said sorry, but no. The Federal Aviation Administration's rules for flying a tethered balloon would require a permit - the same one, in fact, that MVA is seeking for the wind turbine tower, Mr. Rego said with a laugh.
In addition to the balloon surprise, during last week's public hearing, Chilmark commissioner Chris Murphy voiced an unusual request, calling for a year-long study after the wind turbine tower is built to document the number of dead birds that have accumulated under the tower. "In terms of us regulating these towers in the future, it would be nice to get some numbers," Mr. Murphy said.
Mr. Rego respectfully reminded him that at the first public hearing session, Gary Harcourt of Great Wind Rock, an Island-based small wind energy consulting and installation business, provided testimony about scientific studies that estimated an average of one to two birds a year are killed by wind turbines.
Mr. Murphy said nonetheless, he thought Mr. Rego should have someone inspect the base of the tower daily and keep a logbook with the numbers.
In a follow-up phone call this week, Mr. Murphy explained that he had read that in England and Wales where there are wind machines on the coast, one of the big issues was dead birds. "We have a federal and state aviation commission that's in charge of looking at airplane issues, but nothing's in charge of the birds," he said. "I just want to gather information. In a few years from now, windmills will be more of a piece of our lives and if we can get more information so that we know if one type of windmill kills birds and another doesn't, we could make recommendations to people."
When asked who he thought should conduct the daily count, Mr. Murphy suggested, "The MV Ice Arena has the wonderful attribute of being a volunteer
organization - possibly somebody would say, I'd like to do that. Do I think we need to pay somebody a lot of money to do a study? Unh, unh."
He added, "I'm not trying to set up another group to study tweety birds under towers."
Mr. Murphy said he does not intend to recommend the bird study as a condition of the project. "Today it's a suggestion - in the future, it would depend," he said. "None of us knows about this stuff - we're all just getting into it."
The MVC continued the MVA's public hearing to tonight's meeting to keep the written record open. If the hearing is closed tonight and a post-hearing held at the Land Use Planning Committee next Monday, deliberations and a decision could take place at the October 2 meeting.
In the meantime, the MVA is trying to meet a grant application deadline on October 1 for a Large Onsite Renewables Initiative grant from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative. Mr. Rego said it will be possible to submit more information, such as documentation about permits, in the time between sending in the application and the awarding of the grant. After finishing at the MVC, the wind turbine project also will be reviewed the Oak Bluffs planning board and zoning board of appeals.
In other business, the MVC approved a DRI application from Danny Chan to build a new two-story, two-bedroom multi-use building for his business Fortune World at 6 Sea View Avenue Extension in Oak Bluffs. They also approved a written DRI decision for Nova Vida Church to locate a 150-seat church and a church-related center in a building that presently houses the Martha's Vineyard Hospital day care facility.