The East Quogue Fire District commissioners are moving forward with plans to erect a 100-foot pole that will support an antenna behind the fire house on Montauk Highway, an effort to improve faulty radio communications among emergency responders.
The commissioners dropped a proposal last fall to allow T-Mobile to construct a cell tower in the same location in exchange for permission to place their antenna at the top free of charge, after public opposition.
The new plan, which calls for a single pole with an arm for a new siren, has drawn the same opposition from residents, who say the structure would tower over Main Street businesses and nearby homes in the hamlet. The base of the pole would measure about 30 inches in diameter, and the top less than 2 feet in diameter.
“I think many people just cannot believe that anybody would propose a 100-foot tower that close to a small downtown area,” Don Bouchard, a lifelong resident of the district, said on Monday. “I’m looking out my window. If that tower goes up, I’ll be staring at the top of a tower. It’s not what I want to see from my home.”
The commissioners and representatives of the East Quogue Fire Department said the proposed pole would need to reach 100 feet to allow communication throughout the hamlet, which is scattered with “dead zones,” or spots where radio communications drop.
“We need this to be as flawless as we can get it,” Commissioner Allyn Jackson said, adding that the importance of improved radio communications in protecting residents in emergencies outweighs the aesthetics. “We’re trying to go with what we think is best for the overall fire district.”
Mr. Bouchard said the commissioners should properly vet other options. He suggested the possibility of placing the antenna on the Cablevision tower that sits off Central Boulevard. The Southampton Town Police Department formerly leased space on the tower for their communications antenna before erecting its own tower at their headquarters in Hampton Bays.
“They have yet to explain fully why they wouldn’t go that route,” Mr. Bouchard said. “I don’t think anyone has all of the information. I don’t truly believe the fire district has been forthcoming about the proposal.”
Mr. Jackson explained that the commissioners have explored the option of placing the antenna on Cablevision’s tower, but representatives from the company said the fire district would need to pay for an engineering study to determine if it had space and could support the added weight.
A bigger roadblock is the fact that the antenna would need to be supported with a backup generator, which is supplied at the firehouse but not at the tower on Central Boulevard, Mr. Jackson said. “It’s not going to transmit if there is no generator,” he said of instances when electricity fails. “You lose a little security and integrity if it’s not on your property.”
Mr. Jackson added that the fire district would also need to ensure that the signal can reach the firehouse from the Cablevision tower.
The proposed plan for the monopole antenna behind the firehouse would cost the district about $300,000, though that figure includes a new siren and considerable upgrades to the communications system. Half of that money would come from the district’s reserves, and Mr. Jackson said the other half would be levied in taxes, which could mean proposing a budget that pierces the state-mandated 2-percent tax levy cap. He said Cablevision representatives had estimated a cost of about $1,500 to $2,000 per month to lease space on the Cablevision tower.
Commissioner Mark Gregory said the board plans to send out information to every resident in the district before holding a public hearing that will allow for comment and questions. After that process is complete, the board will vote on the plans.
Though board would then need to apply for a building permit from Southampton Town, and the pole would need to comply with the “fall-zone” requirements. T-Mobiles proposed tower fell 10 feet short on one side, though Mr. Jackson said the commissioners are working to propose a new location on the firehouse property that is in full compliance.
“We have to update our communications, and this is the only way that we are going to be able to do that,” Mr. Gregory said. “We’re talking people who have lived in the community for well over 40 years. I would think that the Board of Commissioners has the best interest of the public in mind, and of course we don’t want to change the little hamlet.”