Pay attention next time you drive along Wickham Avenue or Pike Street near downtown Mattituck.
The road dips, ever so subtly, down a slight hill. It may only be a few feet farther down, but that small valley makes all the difference for the Mattituck Fire Department.
“We’re in a low spot in Mattituck,” said fire district manager John Harrison. “We’ve been for years.”
The department’s 115 volunteers use an 85-foot-tall radio pole arrayed with antennas to communicate across town.
But that tower is too short, he said; the signal won’t reach far enough because the tower stands on low ground, so ambulances or fire trucks may only hear static when they try to relay messages from miles away, he said.
The district has now pitched a solution that Mr. Harrison said would solve part of their problem: replace the 20-year-old wooden pole with a sleek steel communications tower 45-feet taller.
“By adding height to our antennas, we’re going to have a greater ability to transmit to our ambulances — especially our ambulances that go out of town to Riverhead and Greenport,” he said.
The proposed 120-foot-tall pole is currently before the Town Planning Board for approval and would be built for the district for free by Elite Towers, a Deer Park telecommunications business. The old pole would be removed and the new one would be built a few feet away on the district’s parking lot.
In exchange, Elite would add space for wireless providers on the tower, and give the district a cut of the fees it would charge to companies like Verizon, Mr. Harrison said. The district would set that money aside as long-term savings for when the pole is ultimately replaced years from now.
The idea of a new communications pole has been in the works for five years, Mr. Harrison said, and comes as fire departments across Long Island and the nation are switching to a different type of radio frequency.
The new pole is designed to house most of its electronics inside, making it more visually appealing, Mr. Harrison said.
“The public wouldn’t see it,” he said.
The pole will require a variance from the Planning Board since it far exceeds the 80-foot height limit the town imposes. But at a meeting of the board earlier this month, town planner Brian Cummings said the pole’s benefit for taxpayers and safety would give the board justification to waive the requirement.
“Overall,” he said, “this doesn’t create an adverse impact to the surrounding area,” he said.
The Planning Board later stated the project wouldn’t have any environmental impacts either.
Mr. Harrison said the district sent out a letter to nearby residents explaining the proposed pole. No one responded negatively, he said.
“Is it a magic bullet? No,” he said. “But it’s definitely going to be an asset.”
A date for a public hearing on the pole proposal has yet to be set by the Planning Board.
Photo credit: Paul Squire