Emergency Communication: The Hamptons Cell Tower Shuffle

Hamptons cell service may require unsightly cell towers
Hamptons cell service may require unsightly cell towers
Getty Images

Just about everybody wants better cell service near their homes. But nobody wants the tower that delivers it to be anywhere near their homes. Put it somewhere else, but then beam the service over here to where the service is weak. That’ll do it.

Well, it won’t.

Case in point is the community of Springs, where I live. This is the most populous section of East Hampton. Cellphone service is fine at one end where I live, but it is terrible at the other end. So I’ve watched the NIMBY battle unfold at the other end. It’s been going on for years. I’m just an observer.

First, the Springs Fire Department built a 150-foot tower on their property without a permit. They said it was for an emergency communications system, so who could object to that? And the Fire Department could use the money that would come in from Verizon and AT&T with their deep dishes below. Well, a lot of people did object. They called Town Hall and asked if there was a permit for this, and the answer was nope. So they got the town to demand that it be taken down. It’s still up there — this was four years ago — but nothing is attached. It’s an illegal tower.

Next, AT&T made a deal with the St. Peter’s Chapel on Old Stone Highway to build a tower behind the chapel, but have it tuck inside a fake 50-foot-high campanile AT&T would build — a four-square sort of cedar shingle religious tower that you see in some chapels, especially in Italy. It would blend right in. The tower would complement a little bell tower attached to the roof of the church in front.

Inside, you could sit in the pew and pray to the Lord above the bell tower in front, or since you’d know what’s in the campanile tower, to a telephone company in the back.

Neighbors filed a lawsuit to stop the campanile. Off it went to court.

Next, an attempt was made to build a 185-foot emergency communications tower in the 170-acre woods that houses Camp Blue Bay, the Nassau County Girl Scouts Camp, every summer. Girl Scouts authorities said no, but they would consider one 10 feet tall.

So then the town decided a good place for the cell tower would be in a former sandpit which is vacant land surrounded by a very populous residential development just south of Fort Pond Boulevard. But the townspeople there made so much noise — they called the sandpit an amenity in the area for the children and demanded it be preserved as a little park. They renamed the sandpit the Crandall-Norfolk Woodlands. And that is pending.

After that, the town offered to put up a “temporary” tower 100 feet tall there. It could be wheeled in but then taken away when a more permanent site was found. And that didn’t fly either.

Watching all this from afar, the Girl Scouts then changed their mind and allowed that there could be an emergency communications tower on their property. And so a deal was then signed. But it couldn’t be taller than 120 feet.

Next thing that happened was that the company that had agreed to build the tower, wherever it might go, informed the town that the tower would have to be 185 feet tall if it were to be a cellular emergency communications tower rather than a shorter analog one, which the town had not known.

So for a time, the plan was to go back to the firehouse site and re-apply for a nearly twice as tall, 185-foot tower there, which again caused an uproar. There was also talk about putting the temporary tower at the end of Gann Road, at the Springs Library, or at Maidstone Park. All got rejected.

With that, the Girl Scouts reconsidered and said if 120 feet wasn’t good enough, oh well, one 65 feet taller would be okay. It could be at the corner of Flaggy Hole Road and Three Mile Harbor Road.

And so this project is now moving forward four years later.

Meanwhile, a court judge approved a settlement about St. Peter’s Church. So that project is a go.

“How did we miss this?” a neighbor asked.

Through it all, I’ve been wondering what the difference is between a new emergency communications cellular tower and an old emergency communications analog tower. Turns out the analog version has static and bad reception. Digital does not. But digital has to be taller. Can’t be that the fire is announced with static so the volunteers might go to 285 Three Mile Harbor Road rather than 385 Three Mile Harbor Road, get out their hoses and it’s the wrong house.

Back when I was a teenager years ago, my dad was one of the volunteers. He had a shortwave radio set up on a shelf in the pharmacy of his drugstore in Montauk. It would only start up once in a very long while with an urgent voice telling the volunteers to drop whatever they were doing and get down to the firehouse. And he’d quickly go.

I still have his fireman’s hat.

Way, way back in the 1600s when the Hamptons was first settled, a call for volunteers would get announced by the ringing of the church bells in the town steeples all at the same time. And if you didn’t show, you were fined a certain number of shillings.

And since about 1890 when sirens got invented, they’d go off all over town from atop the telephone poles to alert those firemen not near their emergency radio channels in their offices, homes or stores at that random moment.

To this day, some of the Hamptons — Sag Harbor and East Hampton for example — still set off their sirens, to either mark noon or 5 p.m. with short blasts, or get thee to the fire house with ongoing longer blasts.

It’s also been a law only since about 1988 that numbers be posted on all buildings within the town’s jurisdiction to make it easier for the volunteers to locate an emergency. Before that, it would be “cottage on fire behind the red Wilson House on Cranberry Hole Road near the corner of Lazy Point Road.” Now they just say “83 Cranberry.”

And everybody knows.

More from Our Sister Sites