New Cingular Wireless (AT&T) (NYSE: T) has submitted an application to the Edgartown Planning Board to construct a 140-foot cellular tower on the rural island of Chappaquiddick. What is most significant is that the location selected is a half-acre, non-conforming residential lot, occupied by the home of Robert Fynbo, and located at 14 Sampson Ave, Edgartown, Ma. 02539. Mr Fynbo's small lot is in the most densely populated neighborhood of this sparely populated, largely wooded, Easternmost peninsula of Martha's Vineyard.
The application to build a Personal Wireless Services Facility (PWSF), better known as a cell tower, is on the Docket of the Edgartown Planning Board on Tuesday, July 11, 2017 at 5:30 PM at Edgartown Town Hall, Main Street, Edgartown, Ma 02539
Interested parties and media members are encouraged to attend.
Perhaps the most significant issue for AT&T is the precedent setting nature such a deployment would create:
- Much of Chappaquiddick is designated as Critical Habitat Of Special Concern by the Massachusetts Department of the Environment (DOE),
- Over 40% of Chappaquiddick (Chappy) is conservation land,
- No commercial or industrial developments, of any kind, are permitted, anywhere, on Chappy,
- The entire island of Chappaquiddick is zoned R120. Edgartown's strictest residential-only zoning
- Chappaquiddick is one of the principal breeding grounds of the endangered Piping Plovers, and his home to, or a stopover for, other endangered or threatened bird species and other threatened flora & fauna.
- When surveyed by the town, over 75% or the residents of Chappy opposed a cell tower anywhere on the island.
The ability for AT&T to construct a tower in this location, in spite of all of the zoning restrictions, and in spite of all of the environmental regulations, is thought to be precedent setting, and it is believed that this location will become an important precedent for AT&T, and other cell tower builders and operators around the country, to cite when faced with the slightest opposition to build a cell tower.
"While many of our 91 residents believe they owe Mr. Fynbo their loyalty - which I both understand and respect - I believe Mr. Fynbo owes us, his neighbors, the same respect and loyalty and would not permit the construction of this tower less than 200 feet from our bedrooms," said Robert Strayton, a resident and abutter to the project.
In fact, Mr. Strayton is only one of 12 families within 200 feet of the proposed tower and only one of about 125 families within 1000' of the proposed facility.
"AT&T has surveyed the entire island, and in 2011 declared a seven-plus acre, town owned parcel as the best location on the island to site a tower, and that even at 120 feet would cover over 16 square miles, Chappy is less than 10 square miles so the tower up there would cover a lot more ground and could be lower in height, but now they claim that their technology isn't as good, and moving the tower a half-mile will prevent it from covering the beaches. I have a hard time believing that one," said Dana Strayton, Chappy resident. "The real problem is almost no one knows this is happening, but when I tell them about it, they are horrified," Mrs. Strayton continued.
The Strayton’s, along with a group of their neighbors, have been fighting against siting this cell tower in the midst of their neighborhood. A 2011 radio frequency analysis conducted on behalf of AT&T showed two other locations were better suited to the construction of the tower. Mr. Fynbo's lot was not surveyed at that time, but last year he agreed to allow AT&T to place a temporary tower in his front yard. Now AT&T is seeking a special permit to locate a tower on the tiny property for the next 30 years.
"We have been fighting the siting of this tower in this location, but if we really need to have a cell tower on the island it should be on town land, in the woods, away from everyone's homes, like the town promised last year” said, Mrs. Strayton. “But the town won't listen, no one seems to be listening to us," she continued.
The Strayton’s, along with another abutting neighbor, sued AT&T and the Town of Edgartown last year, the couples were forced to drop their suit when it became prohibitively expensive, but they uncovered a veritable labyrinth of backroom deals and the involvement of several of AT&T's most senior executives. In February, the Strayton's filed complaints with the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office of Open Government and asked for protection from the AG's office under the Federal Whistleblower acts. The investigation is ongoing, but the Strayton's have offered to provide the thousands of pages of emails and documents they have received as part of their lawsuit with media members and other interested parties to substantiate all of their claims.
The Strayton's', and their neighbors, have gone to the hearings, written letters and testified in front of various town boards, they have written petitions, and contacted both their state and Federal legislators who are investigating the issues.
"We have two newly elected state legislators here on the Cape & Island's and I am hopeful, with their involvement and the scrutiny of state government, the elected officials of Edgartown and the Martha's Vineyard Commission, will finally come to their senses and have the courage to save our neighborhood, and site this tower out in the woods, where the burden of such a thing is shared by everyone, instead of the middle of our peaceful neighborhood, and instead of to the benefit of a single landowner, that clearly only cares about himself and the $1,500/month he’s getting in rent,” Mr. Strayton opined.
Sampson Ave is in area of Chappaquiddick know as the "Enos Lots." Like most roads on Chappy, Sampson "Ave," despite its moniker, is a single lane, private, dirt road. The Strayton's property has significant frontage on Sampson Ave when compared to other homes in this enclave of small, year-round and seasonal homes.
"I can't object to the cell tower for health concerns, but I am concerned about living less than 200 feet from the 63 radiation centers planned for this installation," laments the diminutive Strayton, her voice cracking, and eyes welling, with emotion. "The Telecommunications Act of 1996 forbids that, but this tower and all of the microwave radiation emitting from it scares me." And perhaps, Mrs. Strayton has a point, in Europe cell tower output wattage is limited to 10 Watts, in the United States we permit a 100-Watt output with a peek-to-peek output of 200 Watts and many towers exceed 1,000 Watts.
And the fact is, the tower, as planned could actually fall on not only the landlord's home, but it could fall and block this narrow lane, or even fall on the house next door.
Some of the facts the neighbor's cite is that in the United States, on average one cell tower per day collapses and falls. They also cite the fact that on average, one cell tower in the United States per day catches on fire. In a place like Chappaquiddick, with a small volunteer fire department, and help from larger departments a ferry boat ride away, fire, is always a major concern. Members of the Edgartown Fire Department have admitted privately they would be powerless to fight a fire on a tower.
"The town says this is about "safety" so why place a tower in a location where it's very physical presence creates a potential danger for homeowners and even just passers-by," Mr. Strayton wonders. "And if it is really is about safety, why not place it in a location where it provides the largest coverage area, including not just Chappy but the waters south and east of the island as well as the areas known as Norton Point and South Beach, both areas that see tremendous visitor and recreational activity, and which, on the south coast of the island, with its rough surf and rip currents, have little (South Beach) or no lifeguard coverage whatsoever (Norton Point)," Mr. Strayton questions.
The Strayton's, and other residents of the Enos Lots, are available for comment by contacting the head of the neighborhood association opposing the tower, Rob Strayton at 307 Chappaquiddick Rd, Edgartown, Ma 02539. 508-627-7576 or 508-341-4555 or [email protected]