Chappy cell tower goes before the MVC

AT&T looks to replace temporary tower with a slightly taller, permanent structure.

Chappy resident Roger Becker holds a photograph of the monopole design of the temporary tower. Barry Stringfellow

Updated Oct. 13

When the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) voted 8-1 to approve a temporary cell phone tower on Chappaquiddick last April, part of the plan was to replace the temporary tower with a permanent one at a later date, pending another MVC approval.

Last Thursday, representatives from AT&T and consultants went before the MVC at a packed public hearing to get the go-ahead for the permanent tower.

The permanent tower and temporary tower are considered Developments of Regional Impact (DRI).

Brian Grossman, attorney with Cambridge-based Anderson & Kreiger, which represents AT&T in this deal, provided a PowerPoint presentation which showed the design of the proposed tower and views, or lack thereof, of the tower from various points on Chappy.

Although the temporary tower only serves AT&T customers and first responders, Mr. Grossman said that Verizon has expressed interest in “co-locating” on the permanent tower, and that there would be room for one more carrier as well, along with Chappy WISP, an independent internet service provider owned by Chappy resident Robert Fynbo. If approved, the permanent tower will be sited where the temporary tower now sits, on Mr. Fynbo’s property at 14 Sampson Ave. Mr. Fynbo already has an 85-foot antenna on his property, which he erected 34 years ago for Chappy WISP.  His tower would come down if the permanent tower is approved.

Mr. Grossman said the proposed permanent tower would be 13 feet taller than the current 104-foot tower. The temporary tower is a “monopole” design, which has no antennae on the exterior. The permanent tower would have 9 panel antennas mounted on the exterior.

Dan Goulet, consultant from Boston-based C Squared Systems, explained that the permanent tower could not be a monopole because the growing capacity demands on cell service and wireless data, which spike dramatically in the summer, necessitate exterior antennas. The permanent tower would not significantly expand the geographic range of the temporary tower but it would provide considerably more capacity, Mr. Goulet said.

According to AT&T, the temporary tower has increased coverage to 78 percent of Chappy, including all of the beaches.

As they had been at the public hearings for the temporary tower, Edgartown Police Chief David Rossi and Fire Chief Peter Shemeth were on hand to endorse the project.

“We have communications over there that we didn’t have before. We’ve had several emergency calls that wouldn’t have gone through without it,” Chief Shemeth said.

“It makes sense for everyone,” Chief Rossi said. “If you need proof, he’s sitting right here,” he said, indicating Sampson Avenue resident Hanley Clifford.

On April 18, Mr. Clifford had a chainsaw accident, cutting his lower leg to the bone. “They were able to find me because they could zero in on my cell signal,” he told The Times after the meeting. “Before the tower, I would never have gotten through.”

Mr. Clifford told commissioners, “That cell tower saved my life. I live in the shadow of the tower and I love seeing it. We have a chance to actually get something done here. Let’s move ahead with this.”

“We have more than a four-to-one response in favor of going forward.” seasonal Chappy resident Bob Gurnitz said. “It’s not perfect, but we don’t live in a perfect world. We should give AT&T the go ahead while they’re still interested. We don’t need multiple years of debate.”

“The telephone poles are unsightly but you get used to them,” Patricia Rose said.

Edgartown Fire Chief Peter Shemeth talks about the public safety aspects of a new tower. – Barry Stringfellow

A number of Sampson Avenue residents again voiced staunch opposition to a cell phone tower in their neighborhood.

“It will completely change the feeling and flavor of our neighborhood,” Sampson Avenue resident Molly Pickett said. “It seems totally contradictory in what we come to Chappaquiddick for.”

Chappy resident Roger Becker suggested that the drawings of the proposed permanent antenna presented by Mr. Grossman would be similar to an antenna at M.V. Ice Arena. Mr. Becker showed an enlarged picture of the cell tower to demonstrate his point. He contended that it was a more accurate representation of what AT&T would build. Chappy is not the place for such a “monstrosity,” Mr. Becker said. “I think we should get a consultant here to see if it can be done in a less impactful way,” he said.

Mr. Grossman said the plans presented are exactly what AT&T intends to build.

Addressing safety concerns of abutting property owners, Mr. Grossman said the only structure within the “fall zone” of the tower was on the Fynbo property. “Keep in mind, it’s designed not to fall,” he said.

Right site?

“Public safety is the key benefit, both the [Edgartown] police and fire have stated the tower is a major improvement,” MVC executive director Adam Turner said. “The key issue is, is this the appropriate site?”

Per a previous request by the MVC, Mr. Grossman said AT&T had explored 53 alternative sites, and received only seven responses from landowners who indicated they would consider a tower on their property, and out of that, only two sites were possible alternatives. Because locations lacked the elevation of the Sampson Avenue site, the only way to achieve the current coverage would be to install multiple taller antennas, which run contrary to the aesthetic concerns of many of the opponents.

“I’m more interested in safety than aesthetics,” Tisbury commissioner Trip Barnes said. “We’ve got to have it.”

AT&T hopes to have the permanent tower up and running by next May, Mr. Grossman said. Installation would take about a month and a half.

“Either way, if we get approval or not, that temporary tower will come down in May of 2018,” he said.

AT&T was the only company to respond to a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a wireless antenna, sent out by the Chappaquiddick Wireless Committee in 2015.

The public hearing was continued to Thursday, Nov. 2.

Editor’s note: Story was updated to clarify Mr. Becker’s position.