With the total anticipated costs of a new emergency radio communications system climbing to more than $11 million, the East Hampton Town Board approved an additional $2.8 million in borrowing last week.
The bulk of the latest additional costs are chalked up to the addition of three new communications towers to the network—in Springs, Northwest Woods and Montauk—to close chronic gaps in communication connections in some regions of the town.
In all, the new system will now include five new towers. Each tower requires about $750,000 worth of antennas and control equipment, town officials have said, and the town will also be bearing the additional costs of constructing at least two of the towers. One of the towers, at the town dump in Montauk, will be nearly 300 feet tall, so as to make line-of-sight connections with towers to the east and west.
Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said this week that he and other members of the Town Board think that even with the swelling costs, the project remains a worthwhile investment in the town’s ability to respond to emergencies.
“If you take the $11 million and divide it by the life expectancy of the project, which is 20 years, it comes out to about $550,000 per year,” he said. “I think we, and the general public, feel that $550,000 a year, townwide, is not an exorbitant amount to spend to have a state-of-the-art communications system for our emergency responders.”
The new digital radios system will replace a current 800mhz radio system that is nearing 30 years old, has had several equipment failures in recent years and has posed difficulties in getting parts for repairs, town officials say. By adding towers, emergency managers are hoping to fill in several areas with little or no communication to dispatchers—particularly in areas of Northwest, Springs and Montauk.
The town’s portion of the costs for the new system—which will shift all police, fire and other emergency communications and dispatching to digital equipment—was initially to be about $6.5 million, with East Hampton Village taking on another $1.5 million in costs for upgrading its dispatching equipment, and each of the town’s fire departments bearing some additional costs for new radios in their vehicles.
Early last summer, just as the new equipment was about to be installed, it was discovered that the existing communications towers at the East Hampton Town Police Department headquarters in Wainscott and at the town dump property in Montauk were inadequate to support the antennas for the new digital systems, or needed to be taller to account for growing trees interfering with their line of sight to other towers.
Earlier this year, the town and Suffolk County won permission from the Federal Aviation Administration to place two long-requested new towers at a county-owned site on East Lake Drive in Montauk that they say will give them better radio communications near Montauk Point.
Mr. Van Scoyoc acknowledged this week that the town has plans to utilize a new tower at a town-owned property in Northwest, between Bull Path and Old Northwest Road, where East Hampton Village is preparing to construct a new fire department satellite station.
The Press reported in May that it appeared from court documents as though the town and AT&T were discussing the construction of a 180-foot-tall tower on the property as a possible avenue to settle a lawsuit the phone company had filed against the town over the denial by the Town Zoning Board of Appeals of an application to put antennas on a windmill at Iacono Farms on Long Lane. But Mr. Van Scoyoc said this week that the plans for the new tower should not be considered linked to a settlement of the legal fight, which is still being discussed.
The exact location of the third new tower, in Springs, is still up in the air. The Springs Fire District and a company called Elite Towers filed an application to the Town Planning Board earlier this month seeking site plan approval for the inclusion of a 180-foot-tall monopole, equipped with the town’s communications antennas, as well as cellular telephone antennas—which would replace a 150-foot tower the fire department had erected in 2015, and has been battling the Town Zoning Board of Appeals in court over it ever since.
The town has also been in negotiations with the Girl Scouts of Nassau County to place a similarly sized tower at Camp Blue Bay, off Flaggy Hole Road in Springs.