Back in January, Ed Mooney of Highlander Consultants in East Islip showed up at a Shelter Island Board of Fire Commissioners with a pitch to construct a second cell tower in the town — this one at the Manhanset Firehouse on Cobbetts Lane.
Commissioners clearly saw dollar signs with promises of an initial payment of $100,000 to the district and ongoing payments based on a percentage of what wireless companies paid to put their antennae on the tower. But the commissioners also saw a second tower — the first is at the Recycling Center — as a means of improving communications when handling emergencies in the areas of Hay Beach and the Rams.
That there are problems with communications in those areas was evidenced by Mr. Mooney saying what brought him to Shelter Island to examine needs were cellphone customer complaints about dropped calls.
While Mr. Mooney failed to make another visit, Justin Saper of Elite Towers of Deer Park made a presentation to commissioners and the public that was even more attractive since the percentage of revenues that would come to the fire district was higher than what Highlander had offered.
A third company, Diamond of New Jersey, made inquiries about the project, but never sent a representative to Shelter Island to make a presentation, prompting the commissioners to settle on Elite.
At the same time as commissioners were examining options, some area residents raised questions.
• Are there alternative means of improving communications other than erecting a tower?
• Could the existing tower at the Recycling Center be increased in height to meet communications problems?
• If a tower is needed, is there another area where it could be sited instead of at the firehouse?
• If a tower is necessary, what is the minimum height that would be effective?
There were also questions about its esthetics in an area that is basically residential with open space.
Attorney David Harms, whose Shelter Island property is near the rear of the firehouse, although forested by enough vegetation that the site of a tower wouldn’t affect him, led the questioners, appealing to the commissioners not to move forward until all questions are answered.
Hire an independent consultant to examine the efficacy of the plan and return with a fair assessment of needs and ways to meet those needs, he said.
The Town Board, which would have to issue a special permit if a second cell tower is to be built, has an independent consultant in place.
By September, fire commissioners signed a letter of intent with Elite Towers, while making it clear that either side could back out of the agreement within a 180-day period. What the letter of intent accomplished was to enable Elite to begin testing to determine what height would be needed for an effective tower and to start the process of permitting with the town.
Betting would side with Elite, given the arguments that it would improve safety for emergency responders called to fires in areas where communications are spotty. But an independent consultant could certainly affect that decision if information is forthcoming that reveals alternative means of tackling that problem or identifying a possible better site for such a tower.
No doubt, questioners will be poised to assure their issues are addressed before a permit might be issued.
Stay tuned as it’s an issue likely to be resolved not far into 2015.