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Agreed-Upon Goal Mired in Dispute

Wed, 09/25/2019 - 12:47

As a legal standoff between East Hampton Town and the Springs Fire District over a disputed radio and cellphone tower drags on toward a fourth year, emergency communications — as well as mobile phone service — in the populous hamlet remains poor to nonexistent. The Springs District commissioners and town officials have the same goal: solving the problems. It is unfortunate that they have been in a state of confrontation rather than cooperation, given that everyone appears to agree on the danger to the community of poor radio signals.

A lot of the issue comes down to money. Rather than raise what would be needed to build its own structure, the Springs commissioners agreed to a deal with a private company that built the tower in exchange for a share in the lucrative business of selling space on it to cellular carriers. This was compounded when someone along the line told the commissioners the district did not have to apply to the town planning board for construction permission. After the zoning board of appeals revoked a building permit for it, the district sued. The matter is pending.

Meanwhile, East Hampton Town has a contract with another company for a tower at a location not that far away to address the same communication lapse. The town prefers a site in Camp Blue Bay, which is owned by the Girl Scouts of America, largely because it is far away from any houses, unlike the Springs location.

Belatedly, the Springs Fire District is now asking the town planning board for permission to remove the offending tower and erect a new one nearby, a little farther from its neighbors. The wrinkle is that the district is still working with the private company, which ultimately is expected to seek to place cellular antennas there in addition to the emergency equipment, though that is not part of the application. This has raised significant questions about whether the application has been improperly “segmented,” that is, presented in pieces, rather than as a thorough picture of the final outcome.

As we implied above, the dispute is foolish because all sides agree on the need for better radio and cellular services in Springs. We fear that the longer the bitter confrontation lasts, the longer it will be before the problems that got everyone to this point in the first place are solved.