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Southold police: No need for new tower to handle emergency calls

COURTESY PHOTO David Harms has led the opposition to a cell tower at the Manhanset Firehouse.
David Harms has led the opposition to a cell tower at the Manhanset Firehouse.

The conversion by Southold Police to high band radio service shouldn’t be a driving force behind the desire of Shelter Island Fire Commissioners to explore erecting a new cell tower at the Manhanset Firehouse on Cobbetts Lane.

That’s the word from Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley who said the conversion to high band radio service is close to going live, but won’t replace the existing low band his department uses to handle dispatching services to the Island and other communities.

“We are about to go live with a new high band radio system for all of the fire departments our dispatch officer serves, but this service is just meant to supplement the current fire radio system so the departments have a band that they can communicate with each other on at fire scenes,” Chief Flatley said.

That high band service in Southold is currently being tested and due to be operational “very shortly,” he said.

Still, First Assistant Chief Will Anderson, who takes the helm as chief on April 28, expects that it’s only a matter of time until Shelter Island does convert to high band service.

“The rest of the world is going high band,” he said.

With the ongoing need to replace radio equipment, it likely makes sense to go in the direction of high band.  But the sense of urgency to put up a new tower might have been muted by Chief Flatley’s  statements.

What concerns Mr. Andersonmore immediately is the reality of dropped communications on the current low band service for firefighters on the scene at an emergency in areas where signal strength is compromised. It makes the process of directing fire fighting activity “chaotic,” he said.

Still unanswered is a question voiced by David Harms,  a leader among some 200 Hay Beach residents objecting to a cell tower being placed on Cobbetts Lane. Mr.Harms has asked fire commissioners to explore other options to a second cell tower on Shelter Island. He’s an Island part-timer who said his Westchester community opted to improve service with use of fiber lines on existing telephone poles and antenna nodes that clear away dead zones.

With the discussion about a second tower in its infancy, that’s likely to be one of the subjects for further discussion as various cell tower providers make their pitch to commissioners, and, eventually, the town ZBA and Town Board.

But another of Mr. Harms’ questions — can’t the existing tower at the town Recycling Center be improved to carry signals to dead zones? — has drawn a response. When that tower was erected, it was before area trees had grown to present heights and before many housing developments sprung up, according to  Commissioner Larry Lechmanski.

Those elements block signals, requiring the siting of a second tower much nearer to those areas where signals are being lost, he said.

But how large a new tower has to be if, indeed, one is necessary, remains a discussion for another time.

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