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Cell tower controversy: Mystery photo sparks anger

COURTESY PHOTO |  This is an ink jet print supposedly taken from a Facebook post.

This is an ink jet print supposedly taken from a Facebook post.

A mysterious Facebook posting has Shelter Island Fire Commissioner Larry Lechmanski boiling mad.

At Monday night’s Fire Commissioners meeting, Mr. Lechmanski accused David Harms, a vocal critic of a cell tower proposed at the Manhanset Firehouse on Cobbetts Lane, of posting what the commissioner thinks is an incendiary picture of a tower unlike anything being considered.

But Mr. Harms said he knew nothing about the posting, nor did Gordon Gooding, president of the Hay Beach Association.

“I didn’t post the picture on Facebook nor did I know it was posted,” Mr. Harms said. “That’s a surprise to me,”

But while disavowing the picture, he added, “The picture was prepared to show the height of the proposed cell tower relative to the firehouse. As the picture shows, it would be enormous. What I find disturbing is the implication that something of this magnitude is our only choice — without having done an independent engineering analysis of the issues or the available solutions.”

Mr. Lechmanski apologized for his accusation against Mr. Harms, but said someone was apparently making an effort to block any tower project by posting the bogus picture.

Mr. Lechmanski said he hadn’t seen the Facebook posting himself. Instead, the picture had been given to him by a department member who received it form someone else on the Island. Neither the firefighter who gave the picture to Mr. Lechmanski nor the person from whom he reportedly received it could be reached.

A search of Facebook also failed to bring up the image.

“There is nobody at this table that would vote for that,” Mr. Lechmanski said about the image being passed around town.

A tower at Cobbetts Lane would likely be no higher than the one at the recycling center and would be positioned behind, not in front of the firehouse, Mr. Lechmanski said.

A new tower would likely be a plain white pole that could sport an American flag, not a stark pole with antennae shooting out at all angles, he added.

In January, Ed Mooney of East Islip-based Highlander — the company that installed the tower at the town Recycling Center — addressed a commissioners meeting, proposing a second tower on the Island. He said it would meet the needs of residents in the Ram Island and Hay Beach areas where reception is reported to be spotty.

But the idea that any tower might be considered for the area has many Hay residents mobilizing for fight. Appearing at a February meeting, Mr. Harms, who lives on Cobbetts Lane, became the spokesman for people questioning whether there might be an alternative to improve reception and meet emergency services needs for communication.

Commission Chairman Keith Clark assured some 40 people at that February meeting that no decisions have been reached and no formal proposals yet received. Commissioners did focus on the fire district’s need to improve communications and the probability that a new tower could serve Island emergency responders if they’re forced to convert from low to high band service.

That could be the case if Southold and Suffolk County convert to high band since they provide dispatching service to Shelter Island and can also call in mutual aid from other East End departments in the event of a major fire.