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May 14, 2019 4:56 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Springs Fire District Seeks To Remove Disputed Cell Tower, And Replace It With A Taller One

May 14, 2019 4:56 PM

The Springs Fire District has submitted a building permit application to East Hampton Town seeking permission to remove the 150-foot cellular tower it had erected at the Springs Fire Department headquarters in 2015 and replace it with a new one that would be 30 feet taller and capable of holding heavier communications equipment.

The new 180-foot tower would be designed to accommodate a new battery of communications antennas for the East Hampton Town Police Department and other local emergency response agencies that are in the midst of a $10 million regionwide upgrade, as well as antennas to improve cellular phone communication in Springs.

The application for a taller tower comes even as the fire district is still embroiled in a lawsuit against the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals, which revoked the 2015 building permit issued for the existing tower.

But the town is also actively seeking a new tower for its emergency communications equipment in Springs that would help close chronic gaps in communications between emergency dispatchers and responders.

The town had been in discussions with the Girl Scouts of Nassau County, which owns a 100-acre camp on Three Mile Harbor Road in Springs, but no new tower has yet been proposed there.

The new building permit application, which was filed with the town Building Department last week by attorneys for Elite Towers, which owns the tower at the fire department headquarters, says they have been working with the East Hampton Town Police Department’s communications technician, Eddie Schnell, on the needs of the new system in Springs. A letter to the town Building Department said that it was those discussions that led the attorneys to submit the application for the taller tower.

The application letter also nods to the Town Board approvals last fall of a bevy of projects around the town to upgrade and elevate several existing communications towers and erect at least two new ones—including one 300 feet tall at the former landfill in Montauk—and the board’s finding that the towers pose no environmental risk. The projects that the town okayed in the fall also include a new tower on East Lake Drive in Montauk and a “potential” 150-foot tower at the Girl Scouts camp in Springs.

It was the consideration of environmental risk, and the determination by the Springs Fire District commissioners that there would be none, that became the core of objections to the tower’s approval and construction and the revocation of the building permit. The district, which stands to earn as much as $15,000 a month from cellular providers for the use of the tower, issued its own assessment under the State Environmental Quality Review Act—as did the Town Board for the other communications towers.

The district’s attorney, Carl Irace, said this week that the ZBA’s decision was flawed and that the town’s moves to approve new towers throughout the town last fall should make it clear that the basis for nearly any tower associated with the new emergency communications system should be seen as acceptable.

“We saw no basis for that finding by the ZBA, and we see no basis for it still,” Mr. Irace said this week. “This [new tower] will be part of the overall communications upgrade, which the town has already given a negative declaration for—and some of those other sites were more environmentally averse than this one is, certainly.”

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