Spokesmen from the Martha’s Vineyard Arena — the Island’s only ice staking rink — appeared before the Martha’s Vineyard Commission on Thursday with an ambitious plan to build a 165-foot wind turbine that will double as a wireless communications tower that could boost cell phone reception in an area known for poor service.
Jevon Rego, a member of the arena board of directors, made a detailed presentation of the plan during a well-attended public hearing. Plans call for the construction of a 140-foot tower at the rear of the arena property off Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road that will be equipped with a 50-foot turbine blade.
After about an hour of public testimony, the commission agreed to continue the hearing. The hearing is tentatively scheduled to continue at the commission’s August 28 meeting.
The arena is run almost completely by volunteers who raise and administer the facility’s approximately $350,000 annual operating budget. Mr. Rego said that $200,000 of the arena’s annual budget goes to utilities; $115,000 of that is for electricity.
He said the arena is the third largest consumer of electricity on the Island. The board of directors has come to rely more on fund-raisers every year and is trying to figure out how to decrease costs or generate revenues, he said.
Mr. Rego said the new wind turbine would offset the increasing cost of utilities and ensure the arena will remain in operation for many years to come. “Everyone is feeling the pinch of rising energy costs, but we are getting hammered,” he said. “This turbine will help keep the arena here for our children.”
Gary Harcourt of Great Rock Wind, the co-applicant for the project, said the wind turbine would provide approximately 39 per cent of the arena’s electricity. “I’m really excited to be part of this project; I am excited we have a community that embraces this type of innovation,” Mr. Harcourt said.
Michael McCormack, the Dukes County Sheriff and a member of the arena board of directors, said the turbine is essential to the arena’s future.
“By approving what is before you tonight, you will be preserving an opportunity for your children, your children’s children and your children’s children’s children . . . as sheriff I see every day young people who do not exercise good judgment based on a set of values that does not include programs like ice skating,” he said.
Initial feedback from the commission on the turbine itself was positive, although there were lingering questions about the second part of the proposal — the portion of the tower designed to hold wireless communications equipment.
Jim Albiani of Maxton Technology Inc. — which builds and manages cell phone towers across the country — said his company approached the arena last year about possibly placing a cell tower on the wind turbine. He said the cell tower would offset the cost of the wind turbine and generate revenue for the arena. He said the turbine would be designed to accommodate either two or four cell phone towers.
Several commissioners noted the scant details about the cell tower portion of the project. The most recent staff report on the project states only that: “The applicants are in negotiations with a cell phone company who want to engineer a tower that could co-locate a cell phone antenna within the wind tower but are going forward at this time with just the wind tower application.”
Mr. Rego on Thursday pointedly asked if the commission would be more inclined to approve the project if the cell tower component were left out. But commissioners declined to speculate, instead asking for more details, specifically about the wireless communications equipment.
Public comment was positive.
“It’s a busy road and an open space and a good size for a wind turbine. I can’t think of a better place for this . . . it’s not a shoehorn. It’s a good fit,” said Brian Nelson of Nelson Mechanical Design in Vineyard Haven.
Edgartown resident Phil Mercier encouraged the commission to endorse the plan.
“It’s a fabulous facility, and it has such a positive influence on so many children. I hope you will support this to ensure the long term stability of this facility,” he said.