At a packed Tuesday-evening planning board meeting in Edgartown, representatives from AT&T presented plans for a temporary 104-foot ballast-mounted guide tower, to be erected on the property of Chappaquiddick resident Robert Fynbo. AT&T lawyer Brian Grossman said the temporary tower, which could be up and running by Memorial Day, would fill in up to 78 percent of coverage gaps on the small island.
The plan also includes one mounted dish antenna that would be six feet in diameter and 10 feet off the ground, a 14- by 14-foot frame to hold the ballast in place, and a six-foot-high gray stockade fence to surround it.
Mr. Fynbo is the owner of Chappaquiddick Wireless Internet Service Provider (Chappy WISP), a company he formed to provide broadband Internet wireless service to the island. In February, the Chappy Wireless committee said they unanimously supported the idea of a temporary antenna on Mr. Fynbo’s property, where there is already an 80-foot-tall antenna.
AT&T explored the option of adding equipment to the top of Mr. Fynbo’s antenna, but concluded the WISP antenna would not be able to support its equipment.
At Tuesday’s meeting, discussion followed a familiar pattern in the longtime debate. Some Chappy residents were in favor, and some were opposed. Public safety personnel said they stressed the need for emergency communication. Police Chief David Rossi, Fire Chief Peter Shemeth, Deputy Fire Chief Alex Schaeffer, and The Trustees of Reservations superintendent Chris Kennedy underscored the need for improved service. Mr. Kennedy recounted an instance last summer when a young man was buried when a hole he dug in the sand collapsed around him.
“We’ve been very very fortunate that we haven’t had more fatalities out there,” Mr. Kennedy said.
Mr. Grossman said that the Memorial Day goal is not firm, but that “the goal is to move as quickly as possible to meet this aggressive date.” He described the temporary tower as unmanned, “passive in nature,” and said it would have no effect on local wildlife.
Molly Pickett, who lives directly next to Mr. Fynbo’s property on Sampson Avenue, told the planning board she did not want a temporary tower visible from her property, and that she was “really rather upset” to find out that a second tower would be built in lieu of an addition to the existing Chappy WISP antenna.
“People are jumping to this because it’s not in their backyard, but I will say it is in my front yard, and my side yard,” Ms. Pickett said.
Planning board member and Chappaquiddick resident Alan Wilson recounted an emergency three years ago caused by a lightning strike. His wife, he said, was too small to open the garage door manually to access their car, and he could not get a cell phone signal and had to run down the street to find service and dial 911.
Roger Becker, a wireless committee member and a vocal cell tower opponent in the past, offered support. He said that he believed AT&T wouldn’t build a temporary tower and then abandon plans for a more permanent solution, as some Chappy residents suggested. He asked the planning board to consider setting up regular six-month reviews to check in on AT&T and its progress in moving forward, if they were to build the temporary site.
Mr. Grossman said AT&T would definitely be open to such reviews.
Toward the end of the meeting, planning board chairman Michael McCourt asked planning board assistant Georgiana Greenough to read parts of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (TCA) out loud. The act bars towns from arbitrarily rejecting an application to site a wireless facility, or citing the perceived environmental or health effects of radio-frequency emissions. While the law empowers cities and towns to control where the facilities are sited, town governments are not granted the right to say no to any carrier. At the same time, the burden is on the carrier to demonstrate that there is a need for coverage and to make efforts to share wireless facility sites.
Discussion continued for over an hour before planning board members continued the discussion to 5 pm, April 19. In the interim, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) will host a public hearing on the proposal on Thursday, April 7, at 7 pm at its headquarters in Oak Bluffs. The Edgartown planning board cannot make a decision about the temporary tower until the MVC votes on the proposal.