The East Hampton Town Planning Board voted unanimously on Sept. 21 to schedule a public hearing for a proposed 185-foot cell tower that would be installed by American Tower at Camp Blue Bay in Springs. The hearing will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 19, at 7 p.m. at East Hampton Town Hall, and will also be broadcast by LTV with a phone-in option for comments.
Emergency responders have strongly supported the new tower. At the prior week’s planning board meeting, Eddie Schnell, the communications technician for the town police, said if the tower was approved, “Springs will not need another public safety tower for the foreseeable future.” The tower would also provide regular cell service for the four main phone carriers.
The board is pushing American Tower to use a propane-powered generator, instead of diesel, to reduce the chance of a fuel spill. After months of asking, American Tower had yet to provide an alternative. Because board members said they had hoped for more generator information before setting a public hearing, they took a cautious approach in discussing the environmental impact of the tower.
New York’s State Environmental Quality Review Act “requires all state and local government agencies to consider environmental impacts equally with social and economic factors during discretionary decision-making.”
As part of that process, the board was given an “impact assessment” form with questions to help them make a judgment. One of them, regarding the tower’s impact on public water supplies, gave the board pause. They wrestled over whether a diesel generator would create a “moderate-to-large impact.”
While it was not clear if their concern over the generator would be enough to trigger a larger environmental review, it certainly triggered the lawyers.
“If we delay this a week to get counsel’s opinion about whether or not we’re triggering an environmental impact statement, then we’re going to delay it a week — and it means one more week of lousy cell service in the Springs,” said Samuel Kramer, the planning board chairman.
Richard Whalen, an attorney representing residents in the Talmage Farm area, spoke in support of the tower and cautioned the board about judging any impact, moderate or large. “It goes without saying that if you require an environmental impact statement, it’s going to take a lot more to get this cell tower built,” he said.
“I don’t think the mere presence of a diesel generator on a 172-acre property that’s 40 feet above the groundwater level presents a moderate-to-large impact,” said Eric Schantz, the assistant planning director for the town, counseling the board.
In the end, the board agreed with Mr. Schantz, and they answered “no, or small impact” for each of the questions on the required environmental assessment form, allowing the public hearing to be scheduled.
“Just know that the issue of diesel versus propane is going to come up again,” Mr. Kramer told Lucia Chiocchio, an attorney representing American Tower.