Wireless coverage should improve in the coming months in a section of the notoriously spotty South Fork after AT&T erected a 180-foot cell tower on East Hampton Town-owned land, but litigation persists from residents who say the pole is an eyesore.
Opposition to new cell towers over the years has left the East End with large swaths of cellular dead zones, and the problem has only worsened with an influx of residents due to the coronavirus pandemic. AT&T received approvals in February from East Hampton’s regulatory review boards to install a new monopole in the Northwest Woods area, according to the town. It was put up last week.
"The town is pleased that after years of litigation and a historical lack of reliable cellphone service in the Northwest Woods area [that] this facility will provide more reliable cell service, including emergency communications, and will host much-needed town public safety equipment," said Kelly Wright of Scahill Law Group PC, East Hampton’s outside counsel in the matter.
An AT&T spokeswoman said the tower is not yet on air but will bring improved coverage to the area in early 2021. She did not specify a date.
"For many years, we have been attempting to work with local officials and the community to expand coverage in East Hampton, and it is our hope that they begin taking action more quickly to embrace the importance of wireless deployments to improve connectivity for their residents, including first responders," lead public relations manager Megan Daly wrote in an email.
The communication company filed a lawsuit against the town in 2017 after the municipality denied an application to install nine panel antennas on an existing wind turbine on a farm. The town agreed to allow a new tower to be built on a former brush dump to settle the suit.
AT&T has another federal lawsuit pending against the town over the denial of an application to build a 50-foot-tall bell tower at St. Peter’s Chapel in Springs to house antennas.
Town officials have acknowledged the wireless service problem and promised in August to work with a consultant to develop a strategy to improve cellular coverage. The town board voted 5-0 at its Nov. 10 meeting to accept a proposal from Orlando, Florida-based CityScape Consultants Inc.
East Hampton Town in August also approved a temporary Verizon tower to be erected on town-owned property on Stephen Hands Path in Wainscott while the company seeks approval for a permanent tower.
Still, projects like the Northwest Woods cell tower have encountered opposition, with two legal actions filed by neighbors pending in state court and one in federal court. Wright declined to comment on those proceedings, as they are still active, but noted the neighbors did not obtain any court orders preventing construction of the tower.
Andrew Campanelli, a Merrick-based attorney representing residents, said his clients would move forward with proceedings in the hopes the tower would be taken down.
"It’s not just an eyesore, it’s dominating the skyline," he said.
AT&T installed a 180-foot monopole service tower in Northwest Woods to improve wireless coverage in East Hampton Town.
The tower is expected to come on air in early 2021.
Neighbors have three legal actions pending in federal and state court and hope the tower will be ordered taken down.