Radio Tower Question? Better Ask Eddie

“You better ask Eddie.” That is the refrain you will hear when you ask anyone in East Hampton Town government or in any of the local fire departments about the changes being made in the town’s emergency communications infrastructure.

“Eddie” is Eddie Schnell, communications technician for the East Hampton Town police who is shepherding a major overhaul of the system, which, all agree, is 20 years old and dangerously inadequate.

Just days after the East Hampton Town Board gave the green light for the proposal, for which it has already bonded $8.3 million, Schnell was seen on location at the entrance to the recycling center off of Montauk Highway in Montauk, where a 300-foot-tall, three-sided lattice steel tower will soon rise. He was supervising the drilling for 40-foot-deep core samples, which will be used to determine the engineering and design challenges ahead.

Schnell and the town have been scouting locations for other towers needed to complete the system, which will ensure that at no time will emergency responders lose contact with one other.

One location that will not be chosen is the old McKay ITT radio tower in Napeague. Although certainly tall enough, at about 280 feet, to do the job, that tower is so decrepit and in such poor condition that workers are afraid to even climb it, according to Schnell. It is on state-owned land. Once, there was a second tower there. Schnell said they were constructed after the great hurricane of 1938, as part of an offshore communications system.

Instead, Schnell and the town are considering other sites. One such potential site is located east of East Lake Drive, atop a tall hill that borders with Deep Hollow Ranch. Called the Ground Air Transmitter Receiver site, it already has obsolete wooden monopole towers on it. One of them would be taken down and replaced with a metal monopole tower the same size as the wooden one. There is a catch, however, Schnell said: The GATR site is county-owned land. The county has approved the swap, if the new pole could be painted to look like the remaining wooden ones. However, because of the proximity of Montauk Airport to the north on East Lake Drive, the FAA is asking that the pole be painted orange and white, with a double red light on top.

Schnell was aware of the challenges ahead when he replaced the retiring Nat Raynor about two years ago.. “That’s kind of why I took the job,” he said last week. Schnell knew Raynor through their joint membership in the Bonac Amateur Radio Club, which had used the GATR site previously for some of its activities.

Got an emergency communications tower question in East Hampton? “You better ask Eddie.”

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