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Commissioners eye cell tower to pay for equipment

JULIE LANE PHOTO High band radio communications won’t be forced on Shelter Island for an anticipated six years, according to Fire Commissioner Larry Lechmanski. But he said that doesn’t preclude the need for second cell tower at the Manhanset Firehouse.

JULIE LANE PHOTO
High band radio communications won’t be forced on Shelter Island for an anticipated six years, according to Fire Commissioner Larry Lechmanski. But he said that doesn’t preclude the need for second cell tower at the Manhanset Firehouse.

Shelter Island Fire Commissioners delayed signing a letter of intent with Elite Towers Monday night to push forward with consideration of a new cell tower at the Manhanset firehouse on Cobbetts Lane.

Although the project must gain approval from the Town Board before work could begin, the commissioners balked at a  non-disclosure clause contained in the agreement.

Following the advice of Commission Attorney Helen Rosenblum, commissioners agreed they are a public entity and can’t enter into an agreement that would prohibit them from disclosing terms. They have no problem with protecting technical proprietary information that could affect Elite Towers’ competitive position with other companies, they said. But the letter containing the non-disclosure clause had no such information in it.

Ms. Rosenblum was to communicate with Elite officials about changing the letter.

One clause in the letter would give either party the option of pulling out of an agreement if a new cell tower can’t go forward within six months. That’s something the commissioners said they found acceptable.

While Ms. Rosenblum and the commissioners push forward to tweak the initial letter of intent and move the proposal to the Town Board, Larry Lechmanski told his colleagues that revenues resulting from a new tower that would accrue to the district could be used to offset costs associated with converting the fire department from low band to high band service when it eventually becomes necessary.

At the same time, he reported on a meeting in Southold with other area fire officials at which he learned the conversion is not going to happen as rapidly as had been anticipated.

Mattituck — the fire district on the North Fork with the most sophisticated communications equipment — has been testing high band service and discovered that pagers aren’t able to capture signals between Southold and Mattituck — less than eight miles apart.

That’s because the high band is more narrow than the low band service, and while it can travel the distance, it can’t penetrate obstructions the way the low band radio service does, Chief Will Anderson said. That leaves  Mattituck to try to work out the problems before anyone on the North Fork converts to high band service, Mr. Lechmanski said.

He quoted officials from Long Island Telecommunications and Services, who were at the meeting, and reported that improvements to high band communications would require either more repeaters or higher poles to improve reception. The repeaters are very expensive, Mr. Lechmanski said.

“Apparently, there’s too many bugs to be worked out so it gives us more time to build up our capital reserve fund” while Mattituck resolves the problems, he said.

But even when the problems are resolved, plans call for dispatching to be done on both high and low band frequencies for an indefinite period of time, he said.

That would continue indefinitely until a piece of equipment on the low band service breaks and is considered too expensive to repair or replace, he said. At the same time, he said the government that had originally planned use of high band frequencies in the 500 megahertz level are now talking about taking those frequencies back to sell to others and moving emergency service frequencies to the 700 megahertz level.

Meanwhile, Suffolk County has received a $1.2 million grant to upgrade its communications services so it’s likely the county will make a changeover to high band service much faster than Southold Town, the primary dispatcher for departments from Laurel to Orient and Shelter Island, he said.