The telecommunications giant AT&T has submitted a plan to the Edgartown conservation commission to tear down two large silos at Katama Farm and replace them with a taller, single silo that would house a cell tower.
The project dates to 2014, when AT&T leased a small parcel of land around the iconic silos, with the intent to improve cellular connectivity for Katama and Chappaquiddick. There had been longstanding concerns from emergency service departments about spotty coverage in the area.
“Down in Katama, there is very little coverage. It’s a public safety concern,” Edgartown conservation agent Jane Varkonda told the Gazette by phone.
But the plan stalled for years, with AT&T paying the conservation commission substantial rent for the sliver of property but never submitting a proposal.
“They’ve had the lease for years and have never done anything, until now,” Ms. Varkonda said.
In the spring of 2011 Edgartown voted to install wireless cell antennae inside the pair of silos, which at the time were abandoned. AT&T was the only provider to respond to a request for proposals from the town.
But an agreement between the town and the company lagged, in part due to a lawsuit brought by a neighbor, which was ultimately settled between the company and the abutter.
Under the current proposal, AT&T would tear down the two existing silos on the property, which are approximately 60 feet high, and replace them with a single 80-foot silo. A 20-foot tall public safety whip antenna would be affixed to the top of the silo, according to the site plan, with AT&T and Verizon Wireless cell antennas attached at 54 and 74 feet respectively.
Ms. Varkonda said a public hearing for the cell tower proposal would likely be scheduled for the week after the July 4th holiday.
Emails provided to the Gazette show that AT&T considered keeping one of the existing silos, but the company construction team recommended against it.
“It would add a lot of complexity, time and expense,” site acquisition project manager Dan Bilezikian told Ms. Varkonda in an email.
Ms. Varkonda said AT&T had originally considered affixing the antennae to an existing silo, but determined that they could not support the required antenna height.
“They said they wouldn’t stand up to the wind load that are needed,” she said.
The AT&T lease with the conservation commission includes space on the silos and an approximately 24 by 40-foot area next to the old milking barn on the property to allow for the installataion of an eight-foot fence around a facility shed. The lease grants AT&T the right to install and maintain a wireless service facility that utilizes the slightly larger western silo as an antenna support structure.
An amendment to the lease grants AT&T the right to remove both silos and construct a new one in their place.
The lease is for 10 years, with the option to renew for additional 10-year periods at town meeting. The rent is a base rate of approximately $28,000, increasing at three per cent annually, according to the lease.
A historic 180-acre town-owned property situated in the sweep of Great Plains near South Beach in Edgartown, Katama Farm contains multiple barns, an industrial kitchen and more than 130 acres of loamy farmland that has in recent years been largely used for grazing.
Until this year the town leased the farm to the The Farm Institute for nearly two decades — first as an independent teaching farm and later as an affiliate of the Trustees of Reservations. Last month two new leases were issued for the farm: one with the Trustees, to continue educational programming and camps on about 30 acres; the other with Morning Glory Farm to run agricultural operations on the remainder of the farm.