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Public Hearing on T-Mobile Antennas Installation

The cellphone carrier, T-Mobile, has been seeking to expand its wireless transmission coverage at the tip of the peninsula since last December. At a public hearing in the Village of Great Neck on Tuesday, August 17, attorney for T-Mobile, David Altman reviewed the efforts of his client to lease space for the antennas atop buildings at the Senior Housing at 700 Middle Neck Road and at All Saints Church. The Senior Housing was determined to be too far south to provide the coverage needed and the church declined T-Mobile’s offer.

Now, the landlord at the Ellard House apartment building, has agreed to allow “sector” antennas, which are rectangular panels, to be installed on his 3-story building at 825 Middle Neck Road. The NYS Department of State lists David Bassalali as the principal. When questioned by a resident, Mr. Altman said he could not divulge the agreed upon fee to be paid to Ellard House by his client.

Mr. Altman submitted numerous documents from various experts to the board of trustees for their review. According to Mr. Altman, the equipment on the rooftop would not be visible from Middle Neck Road based on the tree coverage of the area. He provided a report, which he said indicates that T-Mobile coverage in the area is poor. A health and safety study done by the applicant showed that the radio frequency to be transmitted would be 33 times lower than the minimum level allowed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

At this point, Mayor Ralph Krietzman asked Mr. Altman to summarize for the record, the federal law regulating the role of local municipalities in the placement of cell phone towers or antennas.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 expressly forbids communities to ban these installations outright based on health concerns. So, municipalities may have say-so regarding placement, construction and the aesthetics of towers or antennas, but, in public hearings, concerns raised by residents regarding long-term health effects of  transmissions, may not be taken into consideration.

The surface area of the rooftop of the building is 6500 square feet and the total area of the proposed equipment would require 320 square feet. Antennas would be painted to blend with the brick facade of the building and is manufactured to “not flake off.” Noise levels generated from the equipment would be in the range of 45 decibels, which Mr. Altman called “de minimus.”

An installation at Ellard House, however, will not provide the total coverage that T-Mobile wants in Great Neck. It will cover a small portion; .6 miles north and south and .4 miles in another. It was clarified that only T-Mobile would have equipment on Ellard House presently. Any other carrier seeking an installation on the building would have to have separate negotiations with the landlord.

As an aside, it was mentioned that T-Mobile and the Commissioners of the Water Pollution Control District are currently negotiating for the installation of transmitting equipment at the new sewer treatment plant on East Shore Road.

At one point, the mayor asked if anyone residing in Ellard House was present. There were none. Mayor Krietzman said that he had sent notices of the meeting to each apartment to ensure the residents’ knowledge of the public hearing. Resident Jean Pierce stated that for many of the residents of the apartment building, English is a second language, and added, “They may not have realized what is going on.”

Elizabeth Allen chastised the wireless companies and their lobbyists for “pushing a law down the throats of our legislators” that stifles health concerns being considered. She said, “Federal law requires us to ignore the health risks...all over the world, people are tearing down cell towers...so when the inevitable cancer clusters occur 10 years from now, there will be something on the record to show that people spoke out. I’m just whispering into the wind, but the warnings will be on the record...It’s a shame it (the installation) couldn’t be located right next to the cemetery which would have been prophetic.”

Village resident David Aubrey asked the board to consider turning down the application on humanitarian and moral grounds. “Maybe there is a legal precedent to be set here.” He recounted recent news reports that have linked the minerals used in the manufacture of cell phones to the bloody war in the Congo. The trade in tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold mined in the Congo, needed for the manufacture of cell phones, has fueled “crimes against humanity....rapes, mutilation, child soldiering.”

Just as hearings are underway regarding “blood diamonds,” Congress has begun to address the issue of “conflict minerals” used in a wide range of electronics, not just cell phones. Buried in the Financial Regulatory Reform bill was a provision that requires any publicly traded company that uses certain minerals to certify annually whether or not those minerals come from the Congo or adjacent countries in Africa.

He concluded, “No one should leave this room ignorant of the fact that they are helping to finance these conflicts.”

T-Mobile USA is part of T-Mobile International, a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom AG based in Germany.

The board, needing time to review the supporting documents, asked that T-Mobile’s experts be present at the next meeting in the event board members had questions.

The hearing will be continued on Tues., Sept. 28 at 7:45 p.m at village hall.