Oak Bluffs may get new tower

Santander to replace roof with period-appropriate clay tiles.

Sheriff’s deputy and communications technician Anthony Gould shows news headlines detailing issues with the Island's emergency communications. — Brian Dowd

Members of Oak Bluffs Fire and EMS, Oak Bluffs Police, and Dukes County Sheriff’s Office went before the Martha’s Vineyard Commission for a public hearing to construct a 140-foot radio tower for public safety purposes at the former Oak Bluffs landfill.

Oak Bluffs Fire Chief John Rose, Oak Bluffs Police Chief Erik Blake, and Dukes County Sheriff Robert Ogden were in attendance for the Thursday night meeting, along with engineers from Motorola, which would construct the tower.

The current Oak Bluffs public safety communications antenna sits on the water tower at the end of Pine Street. The tower uses an outdated VHF analog system — the only jurisdiction in the entire state of Massachusetts to do so, according to sheriff’s deputy and communications technician Anthony Gould.

Crowded equipment and transmitters on the tower, access issues to the water tower site, and outdated technology were among the concerns outlined as reasons for the proposed new tower.

Sheriff’s Deputy Gould gave a presentation to explain how this tower is purely a radio system for emergency personnel, and how it’s long overdue for an upgrade.

“We’re using consumer-grade hardware. We’re using things that are comparable to what a private security company would use for radio, not hardened public safety … this equipment is not meant to handle that. It’s only meant to handle light traffic, and therefore we’ve noticed some failures,” Gould said.

Coverage issues have been a problem, and pose a “significant risk” to first responders and the public, according to Deputy Gould, who made reference to some of the system’s major issues during winter storms.

The proposed tower would be 140 feet tall, be a lattice design, have exclusive use by public safety agencies, increase the frequency of radio transmissions, and have two antennas for the radio frequency system and two microwave dishes. The tower would be updated from the 1950s VHF system, and make it part of a planned multiband digital system with upgraded hardware and fail-safe systems.

“This is going to be like cleaning the film on your glasses. The communication will be like night and day,” Sheriff Ogden said.

During the public hearing, commissioners were concerned about wind velocity. A public hearing for the tower was closed, but then reopened to get clarification from Motorola engineers on how much wind velocity the towers could take, but commission senior planner Bill Veno addressed commissioners’ concerns. “It’s going to be built from the federal standards for coastal towers,” Veno said.

There will be an LUPC meeting on Monday, Oct. 1, and a deliberation and decision the following Thursday.

In other business, the commission gave the green light to Vineyard Youth Tennis and chairman Chris Scott to move ahead with changes to the tennis facility’s hours and accessibility to adults, due to the discontinued financial support of longtime donor Gerry De Blois, who has invested more than $12 million in supporting youth tennis.

The tennis facility’s proposed hours of operation are from 8 am to 9 pm. The new agreement allows adult play from 8 am to 2:30 pm, and from 6:30 pm to 9 pm, during the school year, and allows adults to use two of the four courts from 8 am to 9 pm during the summer.

“By letting adults use it and pay for the overhead, we can continue our mission of making tennis available for the 250 kids who we serve every year,” Scott said.

The nearly two-year-long controversy over roofing shingles used on Santander Bank in Vineyard Haven ended Thursday as the commission and Boston-based bank reached an agreement.

Santander will remove the red asphalt shingles installed in October 2016 and replace them with terra cotta or clay tiles with a look similar to the historic tiles that were previously on the building. The original tiles dated back to 1905, when the building was constructed by William Berry Owen.

The asphalt tiles cost the bank $100,935, and replacing them with appropriate Ludowici Clay Barrel Tiles would cost $276,260, according to a commission staff report.

Santander has until May 31, 2019, to complete the work. The branch closed in December, and the building has been for sale.