Chappy tower trial moves to Boston

Dana Strayton takes the stand but doesn’t conclude testimony.

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Attorneys for the defense and the plaintiffs before Judge Paul Wilson in Dukes County Superior Court on Wednesday. — Rich Saltzberg

A Superior Court trial focused on a Martha’s Vineyard Commission approval of a cell tower at 14 Sampson Ave. on Chappaquiddick failed to conclude Wednesday afternoon. After three days, plaintiff Dana Strayton finally took the stand, but couldn’t finish testifying before the clock ran out. Judge Paul Wilson then agreed to move the fourth and final day of trial to Boston Superior Court, because off-Island attorneys were unable to remain on the Vineyard another day. 

Although testimony of plaintiff’s witnesses had begun, the defense called another witness who had been unable to testify earlier in the trial — radio frequency engineer Dan Goulet. Goulet, who said he was retired, told the court his previous work entailed “designing, implementing and optimizing wireless networks” and conducting EMF (electromagnetic field) tests and calculations for compliance with Federal Communications Commission standards. 

Goulet testified that he worked on the tower project at 14 Sampson Ave., and studied that site along with other possible sites. He said he found that location to be the best choice. “That site substantially fills in the coverage gap that was on Chappaquiddick,” he said. 

As part of his work, Goulet said, he executed a continuous wave drive test of Chappaquiddick, which is used to identify coverage gaps. “We use the drive test data to tune our predictive models,” he said, describing it as an elaborate process. 

Goulet also testified about the potential frequency interference from trees, and the pitfalls of sending signals across water. 

After Goulet’s testimony, the defense rested. 

Plaintiff’s witness David Maxson, an engineer and consultant in radio telecommunications, testified that his résumé included previously drafting radio frequency standards and safety material. He also said he had worked for the Cape Cod Commission since 1999. Maxson said he hasn’t worked for the MVC, but but has worked for the town of Edgartown — “to assist their Chappaquiddick cellular committee,” and to help craft a request for proposals for municipal silo antennas. He further said he assisted Edgartown with updating its bylaws relative to cell siting.

Maxson testified to the feasibility of camouflage work on the Sampson Avenue tower, and about signal radius estimates from that location and various other parcels. 

He told the court sometimes cell towers can draw criticism during local public process. “There is this general sensitivity” of the industrial look of towers as being “incompatible with” certain vistas, he said. 

He testified to potential hazards from the cell tower, and said Sampson Avenue was in the drop zone of the tower, a radius inside which parts of the tower could fall on people or property under certain conditions. 

Relative to fall zones, he testified that the tower is unlikely to ever fall “as long as the tower base plates and the tower foundation don’t go.” He further specified that it’s improbable a section would topple, but in certain scenarios, such a tower could be uprooted like a tree. 

He also testified to knowledge of an AT&T tower in Wellesley that caught fire and bent over like a straw to about 20 feet from the ground, and came close to a hotel. 

In cross-examination, attorney Jonathan Elder asked Maxson if it was true that fall zones or drop zones aren’t in the building code, and Maxson replied that was accurate. 

Under cross-examination by attorney Brian Grossman, Maxson was asked to identify the section of Edgartown’s zoning bylaws that pertains to drop zones. “My recollection is it does not have one,” Maxson replied. 

Dana Strayton, who with her husband Robert initiated the litigation, took the stand Wednesday afternoon after Maxson. 

Strayton testified to the natural beauty that drew her to Chappaquiddick, saying she’d been going to the island for three decades, and was married there. 

Among the activities she likes to do on Chappaquiddick, Strayton said, were gardening, hiking, and walking. She said her favorite thing to do was sit on her deck and have a cup of coffee. 

Strayton described the tower as an “imposing” structure that spoils her view. She said she had concerns about the health effects the tower might cause. 

She said she not only opposed the tower presently erected, but the temporary one that was built before it. 

As the clock approached 4 pm, Judge Wilson halted Strayton’s testimony, and wound the proceeding down. Strayton will continue her testimony next week when the trial continues in Boston. 

The day before, Tuesday, after a lunch recess, Robert Fynbo continued his testimony. 

Fynbo explained Chappy WISP (Chappaquiddick Wireless Internet Service Provider) to the court, a wireless Internet service he founded, which now utilizes a piece of the tower. Fynbo testified that connectivity for his children was the genesis of Chappy WISP. He said neighbors learned Fynbo had wireless capability, and requested it. Before long, Fynbo said he’d developed a wireless service for Chappy, a place where wireless service was previously unavailable.

As The Times reported in September 2012, Fynbo made fruitless attempts to get wireless providers Comcast and Verizon to service Chappaquiddick before attempting something himself. Fynbo said at the time he received his original technical skills from Uncle Sam. “My original training was in the military for microwave communications, and my last 25 years has been in computers. It seemed like a natural fit,” he said. 

After Fynbo, Martha’s Vineyard Commission senior planner Bill Veno testified to his role in MVC planning and decision making relative to the cell tower. Veno said the reason the tower came before the commission was because it was a tower over 50 feet, and any such tower is deemed a development of regional impact (DRI). Veno also testified about the MVC staff report process and the Land Use Planning Committee (LUPC) process. He said the LUPC works to make sure a DRI applicant is fully prepared to go before the full commission, and later the LUPC makes a recommendation to the commission.