A proposal by Verizon to raise the height of the narrow-width microwave tower on Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road came to another standstill at a Martha’s Vineyard Commission public hearing Thursday night.
The proposal to increase the height of the tower from 77 feet to 130 feet would make it so that the 22 trees in the area would not obstruct transmission now and into the future, according to the attorney Geoghan Coogan, who represents Verizon New England.
The tower uses direct-line microwave signals to transmit Verizon landline, 911 calls, and DSL Internet services between Falmouth, Vineyard Haven, and Nantucket. Coogan explained to commissioners that microwave towers are different from normal cell towers, in that they must have a direct path for the signal to travel from one location to the next. This makes all those Norway spruce, scarlet oak, white oak, and pitch pines an issue as the trees continue to grow and the tower remains the same.
This issue has been continued twice before as a result of commissioners not having enough information to make a definite decision.
One issue for many commissioners was the projected growth of trees into the fresnel zone, a cylindrical ellipse drawn between the transmitting antenna and the receiving antenna system of the tower.
Coogan said he hired tree expert Tyler Chronister to assess the surrounding trees. “The Norway spruces can grow, according to Tyler, three feet per year,” Coogan said. “That means that it is possible the tallest trees could come within the proposed zone within 10 years.”
As of now, Coogan said the lowest dish on the tower, at an elevation of 55 feet, is being obstructed by “close to” 22 trees.
If the tower were to be raised, all three dishes on the tower would rise the same amount, as they would be raised in conjunction with each other. Coogan said trees on Martha’s Vineyard do not grow larger than 100 feet in most cases, due to wind conditions and species of tree.
Many of the trees that are beginning to obstruct the main signal of the tower are on private property, and their owners are not interested in cutting them, Coogan said.
Commissioner Doug Sederholm brought up the aesthetics of having a tower raised an additional 53 feet above Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road. “Assuming you need a tower that reaches that height, and since there is space in the back parking lot, I take it it is technically possible to locate the tower further back from the road,” Sederholm said. “Why can’t you locate it further back on your own property? I suspect the answer is that it costs more money.”
Technically, Coogan said, the tower could be moved, but because it abuts the Verizon building, all the services are directly connected. “All the services go right through the door, so relocating all the technology and cables is one part of the problem,” he said.
The other problems Coogan mentioned are the unknown variables associated with relocating the tower to a completely different footprint. “Once we move it, we don’t know what is in the way then. It could have to get higher; who knows what trees are in the line of sight after we move it?” Commissioner Fred Hancock said the most important issue for him is making sure the proposed height increase is aligned with the projected growth of the tallest surrounding trees. “Do we need to add 55 feet onto this tower, or can it be somewhere in between? And does increasing the height make it so we never have to deal with this issue again?” Hancock asked.
Coogan reiterated that within 10 years, it is possible for the Norway spruces to encroach into the direct-signal path.
Commissioner Linda Sibley suggested that technology is advancing every year, and that there may come a time where this taller tower is not necessary. “My concern is, if the technology changes, is there a provision for removing this?” She also mentioned landline use is declining as more people use cell phones as their only mode of communication.
Coogan reminded the commission that at a prior meeting they allowed a condition for the tower to be taken down if fiber-optic or other technologies were to replace it or make it obsolete.
Commissioners concluded they would leave the record open for two weeks in order to get statements from arborists at Polly Hill Arboretum regarding projected tree growth based on soil quality and species of tree. “I think it would be a great idea to hear from people down at Polly Hill; they know all the different species of trees on-Island, and should be able to give a reasonable assessment,” Coogan said.