The East Quogue Fire District Board of Commissioners put out the flames on a hotly contested issue last week after sharing with the community its revised plans, which do not require public approval, to install a new, nearly 100-foot-tall radio antenna behind the Montauk Highway firehouse.
The project has had multiple versions—including a fiercely opposed proposal from T-Mobile to construct a similarly sized cell tower that would have doubled as a radio transmitter for fire department and ambulance company personnel—and was a hot-button issue last year as hamlet residents raised concerns about the aesthetics and environmental impact of a new, larger antenna.
But the public hearing held last Thursday, August 22, at the firehouse was much more subdued, drawing between 25 and 30 residents, most of whom now support the plan even though they will be covering the entire cost of the antenna tower that is needed to eliminate dead zones in the hamlet for first responders. T-Mobile had proposed covering those costs as part of its sales pitch for constructing a cell tower.
“It appears the people in the meeting found it acceptable,” East Quogue Fire Commissioner Allyn Jackson said on Friday, the day after the public hearing. “It doesn’t appear to be an issue that a lot of people are concerned about anymore.”
The pole, which will be between 14 and 18 inches in diameter at its base and about 5.5 inches in diameter at its top, is part of a communications upgrade for the fire department that is set to include a new siren, renovations to the department’s radio room and updating portable radios for responders. The project has an estimated budget of about $190,000, though much of the work still has to be contracted out, Mr. Jackson explained, adding that bids will be put out and dates will be set during next month’s fire district meeting.
He said work could begin as early as this fall, but could be pushed back to next year if the weather does not cooperate. Mr. Jackson noted that the next step in the process will be submitting building permits to Southampton Town and completing the necessary electrical inspection.
The project will now be completely funded through the district’s communication reserve fund, which Mr. Jackson estimated now has about $220,000 in it, and at no additional charge to hamlet taxpayers.
Members of the East Quogue Civic Association made multiple requests asking that the commissioners provide a written guarantee that the new pole would never be used as a cellphone tower, but to no avail, according to group president Al Algieri.
He said the fire commissioners who made last week’s presentation would make only verbal assurances that the structure would not be utilized as a cell tower in the immediate future, but would not provide them with a written guarantee. While the lack of a written commitment makes him leery, Mr. Algieri said his group still supports the project.
“That’s pretty much the end of the saga,” he said. “Five or six years from now, things might change, but that’s something we’ll have to deal with then.”
Mr. Jackson pointed out that adding a cell carrier to the antenna is not even an option at this juncture. “It’s not the intention of the present Board of Fire Commissioners to revisit anything that has to do with a cell tower or a cell antenna,” he said. “It is our understanding that this pole can’t facilitate a cell antenna as we know it today.”
The antenna tower will be built on fire department property and feature a flexible base to help it withstand inclement weather, Mr. Jackson said. If it ever does topple, the tower would fall on fire department property, addressing concerns from neighbors that it could damage their homes, he added.
A new siren will be placed near the top of the pole, which will allow the sound to travel farther through the hamlet while reducing the noise for properties adjacent to the firehouse.
Joan Hughes, the president of East Quogue Citizens Advisory Committee, said her group was pleased with last week’s presentation and although there were a few questions about certain details of the project—most dealing with structural aesthetics—she thought all were answered sufficiently.
“We’re just glad that the fire department is going to get what they need and that they are going to pay for it out of their own reserve fund,” Ms. Hughes said.