EH Town Board Okays Fire Com Towers

Located at the top of the old Startop Ranch area east of East Lake Drive, a planned tower is a vital link in the emergency communications chain, the Montauk Fire Chief says. Independent/T. E. McMorrow

The East Hampton Town Board gave a thumbs-up on the implementation of a total overhaul of the town’s aging emergency communications system on Thursday, October 18, when it voted 5-0 that the proposal would not have any serious adverse effects on the town or the environment.

Workers began on Monday to drill soil samples where a 300-foot tower will be erected early next year in Montauk.

However, before taking that vote, one member of the board, Jeffrey Bragman, voiced a couple of strong objections. Bragman wanted the board to remove two of the eight proposed sites from the list in the document it was approving.

The board had already discussed, in previous meetings, building a new 300-foot-tall, three-sided, steel lattice tower on the western side of the entrance to the Montauk Recycling Center on Montauk Highway, along with installing a taller monopole antenna at the East Hampton Town police headquarters in Wainscott.

There were six other proposals contained in the SEQRA document, four of which Bragman had no objection to. Those four include the existing tower on the Amagansett Fire Department’s property, the existing tower behind the East Hampton Town Courthouse in the government complex on Pantigo Road, a third existing tower located north of East Hampton Airport, and a facility located by the Noyack Radio Tower off Middle Line Road in Sag Harbor.

None of those towers would be replaced. The first three would have new equipment mounted on them, while the Sag Harbor facility would be expanded, with a 288-square-foot building being added, and a much larger propane tank and generator to deal with emergencies.

It was two other sites on the SEQRA document that Bragman was objecting to, one located in Springs and the other in Montauk. The Springs tower would be 150 feet tall, in what board members described as a Girl Scout camp on Flaggy Hole Road. The Montauk tower Bragman was objecting to is on what is called the Ground Air Transmitter Receiver site, or GATR, located on one of the highest elevated points in eastern Montauk, east of Lake Montauk and East Lake Drive.

Fire chiefs across East Hampton have been calling on the town to act as soon as possible on the entire proposal, to protect its citizens during times of crisis, be it fire or storm.

“The communications upgrades included in this project are of immediate need for emergency services capabilities,” Eric Schantz, a senior planner for the town, told the board in the SEQRA document. “As such, there is significant public benefit which cannot be understated.”

Sites Considered

Chief Vincent Franzone of the Montauk Fire Department explained on Sunday the need for the network of taller towers proposed. The plan links a series of towers that communications can be bounced off of, located clear of trees and other man-made and/or natural points of interference, like hills, for radio communication. If any of the towers fails during an emergency, radio signals can be bounced off the other towers, enabling emergency responders to stay in contact with each other.

Chief Franzone said on Sunday that the GATR site is an integral part of the plan, especially for Montauk’s first responders. “We’re at the end,” he said. If the soon-to-be-built 300-foot tower by the recycling center were ever to fail, first responders would be left in the dark without a second tower to bounce signals off of. Currently there is a series of what look like tall telephone poles, upon which were once mounted equipment for the military to use to direct its flights, a remnant of the old Air Force Base. The site was deactivated in 1984.

Bragman’s objection to the two sites he singled out was sparked, in part, during the public comments portion of the East Hampton Town’s work session. David Buda, a frequent observer and sometime critic of the town, said that the proposed towers on the Girl Scout campsite in Springs and the GATR site in Montauk lacked plans for public review, and should not be included with the other six.

“I have to agree with you on that,” Bragman interjected. “When you issue a negative declaration,” he then said to his fellow board members, “it is a statement that you have concluded that there are no potential significant adverse impacts. It is sort of difficult to say that when you don’t have your project defined. We don’t have a plan. We don’t have a height,” he said of the two sites.

Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc responded that, in fact, the proposed new towers’ heights were listed in the SEQRA document. Bragman then asked if the town’s planning board should not be involved. Because the town board is the lead agency on the project, Supervisor Van Scoyoc responded he would not be in favor of involving the planning board, because it would delay the project. Van Scoyoc said he did not want to “get into the weeds, especially on a project like this, knowing its importance.”

In reality, he said, there are three sites being considered in Springs, but the Girl Scout camp is the most tenable, according to the East Hampton Town Planning Department. There is already a tower on the property, he said. It would simply be what he called a “drop and swap.”

Kathee Burke-Gonzalez picked up a point Van Scoyoc had previously made, that the one drawback to the proposal was aesthetic, but the need for the towers far outweighed that issue.

Sylvia Overby asked town attorney Michael Sendlenski if it was possible to remove the two towers Bragman was objecting to in the document and still approve it. Sendlenski pointed out that the proposal had been drafted by the chief planner for the town, Schantz, and the board needed to vote up or down on the measure as a whole.

When it came time for that vote, Van Scoyoc moved to approve the SEQRA as written, with Overby seconding. Bragman then moved that the resolution be amended before being approved. At that point, Sendlenski stepped in, telling the board that Bragman’s motion needed a second. With none of his four colleagues were willing to second the motion, Bragman announced he would vote to approve the SEQRA as written, but with strong reservations.

Eddie Schnell, communications technician for the town, was seen Monday on the site of the 300-foot tall tower to be erected by the recycling center in Montauk, where core samples were extracted from the ground. He said he expects the final design for the tower to be ready by next month, at which time the job will be put out to bid. Schnell said construction should begin as soon as the ground thaws from winter.

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