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Cell tower tests on Island

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO Tests were conducted Tuesday morning at the Manhanset Firehouse to determine the necessary height and exact placement for a proposed cell tower.
BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO Tests were conducted Tuesday morning at the Manhanset Firehouse to determine the necessary height and exact placement for a proposed cell tower.

With winds whipping at a brisk pace Tuesday morning, representatives of Elite Towers conducted tests designed to determine the optimum height and best placement for a cell tower at the Manhanset Firehouse on Cobbett’s Lane.

It’s not a done deal, but a necessary step before Elite Towers files an application for a special permit necessary to erecting a new cell tower on the Island.

Using a crane to lift a 70,000-pound antenna and apparatus toward the sky, the early testing will reveal what height is needed to ensure transmissions to areas in Hay Beach and the Rams, as well as to a repeater from the Center Firehouse.

The crane was lifted several times and also moved from side to side.

During the approximately three-hour testing an Elite staffer drove to various sites on the Island to determine how far away from the antenna transmissions could be received.

While the crane with its bobbing and swinging arm may not have been a site anyone would relish, the actual towers these days are being designed to look like flagpoles on a base. The base would be surrounded by plantings and the only antenna that would be visible at the top of would be the one belonging to the Shelter Island Fire Department. Antennas for various cell services would be tucked inside the pole, according to Commissioner Larry Lechmanski.

While he noted the pole would be sturdy and not topple, it is designed in the worst case to break in the middle and fall into itself, so it wouldn’t endanger any property around the firehouse.

In addition to the Elite Towers staff conducting the tests, Fire Commission Chairman Andy Reeve, First Assistant Fire Chief Anthony Reiter, Police Chief Jim Read, Supervisor Jim Dougherty, Councilman Paul Shepherd and Town Attorney Laury Dowd were at the site to watch the testing.

The effort at locating a second tower on the Island — the first is at the town recycling center — came about not at the request of the fire commissioners or department members. The fire district acted to push forward the idea of a second tower after a provider pitched the idea.

There have been situations where emergency responders couldn’t communicate because of a lack of service in areas of Hay Beach and the Rams, Mr. Lechmanski said.

“If it’s not them,” Mr. Reeve said about Elite Towers building the structure, “then we’ll have to build our own tower,” he said.

That would be at the expense of taxpayers instead of netting the fire district an initial payment of $100,000 and then a 50-50 split of profits from fees paid by others who rented space on the tower for their antennas.

But initially, it was cellphone customers in Hay Beach and the Rams who complained about dropped calls that first brought the problem to the attention of the commissioners, Mr. Lechmanski said.

Chief Read noted that sitting in the parking lot at the site, he lost two calls Tuesday morning, one to Southold and the other to Southampton. But police have no plans to add an antenna to the tower if it is approved.

Unlike the fire department, the police would have to not only have to pay for their equipment, but pay a monthly fee to put an antenna on the tower,  Mr. Lechmanski said. The fire department would use its own antenna but incur no monthly fee for its antenna placement and maintenance on the tower.

Once tests are concluded and Elite is ready to push forward with its application, it will be Huntington attorney John Couglin, of Ré, Nielsen, Huber & Coughlin, LLP who will shepherd the application through the Town Board permit process.

The Town Board has already hired an independent consultant to vet the application. Albert Tagliaferri of the Center for Municipal Solutions in Yonkers, will offer advice to the Town Board about such factors as whether there may be alternative means of solving the problems or more appropriate sites if a tower is necessary.