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Tempers Flare With Radio Tower

When Mark Shackel heard trees being removed from Manhasset-Lakeville Water District property on Columbus Day, he assumed the work had to do with Hurricane Sandy.

Construction continued into the night, giving local residents their first look at a new, 190-foot radio communications tower which looms over houses on Eakins Road in Manhasset.

“They did it on Columbus Day, there was no warning,” said Shackel, who lives on Eakins across the street from the tower.

The project took approximately three years of planning by the Manhasset-Lakeville Water District, but was a surprise to local residents, who were not notified about the district’s plans.

The tower, which is in the Village of Munsey Park, does not comply with village codes. Officials in Munsey Park, and the adjacent Village of Flower Hill said they had little communication from the Water District regarding the tower.

Neighbors agree it is a safety hazard and reduces property values in the area. But the $314,000 tower could cost as much to relocate, said Water District Superintendent Paul Schrader.

“Next time a hurricane comes through, do you want to come sit in my living room?” asked John Lippmann, whose backyard is about 30 feet from the tower. “I can’t stay in my house anytime there is a storm because it might kill my kids.”

At a Water District meeting Oct. 15, residents of Munsey Park and Flower Hill blasted commissioners for the lack of communication, and demanded the tower come down.

Commissioners kicked off an hour and a half long discussion with an apology for the lack of communication. The apology was repeated throughout the meeting.

“We should have done a much better job with communication for this,” said Commissioner Andrew DeMartin.

The tower was built to the newest engineering standards and is not a danger during storms, DeMartin said. It can withstand winds of up to 200 miles per hour, said Water District Chairman Donald O’Brien.

Work on the tower has stopped, and a date for a second meeting will be announced by the end of the month, O’Brien said. The tower still requires an antenna and wires.

It will allow wireless communication between firefighters on the ground, and between firefighters and dispatch, according to Schrader.  It will also allow wireless communication for district water towers, wells, and water treatment plants, which are monitored at all times. Data is currently transmitted over copper wires on telephone poles.  

Other sites, such as Great Neck South High School, were considered but are not feasible, Schrader said. He said the current site is one of the highest on district property.

Alternate solutions could include attaching communications equipment to the water tower when it is rebuilt next year, or building a more aesthetic radio communications tower. Cell phone towers are sometimes disguised as chimneys, but Schrader said it is unclear whether that would work for a tower of this size.

Munsey Park trustees were informed about the radio communications tower during their board meeting April 10, and in writing on April 22, O’Brien said.

Munsey Park Deputy Mayor Sean Haggerty said written notification was sent to Village Hall but not passed  along by the clerk to the board. He said it was the Water District’s responsibility to inform residents about construction plans.

“We would expect them to engage their own residents,” Haggerty said. “They didn’t tell us what the plan was, where on the property it would be. They just wanted us to know they had adopted a resolution to put a radio tower up.”

Flower Hill officials received written notification May 9, O’Brien said.

The notification included a resolution passed by the Water District on March 19 approving the radio communications tower, said Flower Hill Mayor Elaine Phillips. She said the notification did not include a timeframe for building the tower, but the village would work with Munsey Park to insure an equitable solution is found.

“I can’t imagine doing anything in a village or a municipality of some sort without informing the residents affected, asking for their input,” she said. “Nobody wants a tower in their backyard.”