Written by Linda Portney Goldstein Friday, 19 August 2011 00:00
Verizon Wireless leases a small patch of land directly behind police headquarters on which they erected a cell tower 20 years ago. The lease is due to expire in May of 2012. Representatives of Verizon attended the August 9 Police Commissioner’s meeting in order to begin the process of renewing the lease.
The commissioners had many questions. Since the police department uses Verizon for its official police communications, including 911 calls, Commissioner James Duncan questioned what would happen to service if the lease was not renewed. Verizon representatives, Michael Hepp and Steven Mark Esquire, said that the next closest tower is 1.7 miles east in Roslyn and the loss of the current tower in Port would severely impact Verizon cellular service and police communications in particular. Verizon representatives said that the geography of Port Washington, steeply sloping towards the water, creates a basin affect, which makes wireless service challenging if the tower is not optimally situated. When questioned by a local resident as to the feasibility of replacing the current tower in an equally advantageous location further away from residences, Mr. Hepp said that the required timeframe and cost would make it impossible to accomplish the task prior to May 2012. “Furthermore,” said Mr. Hepp, “it would require multiple sites at various locations to replace the efficacy of the existing tower.” Commissioner Duncan requested a letter from Verizon stating the importance of the cell tower for local communication specifically addressing 911 and first responders.
The commissioners also requested a letter from Verizon verifying that all permits are up to date and a current safety evaluation. It may surprise Port Washington residents to know that as long as cell towers meet minimal safety thresholds set forth by the federal government, local governments cannot consider health and safety when granting permits and leases for cell towers. The Verizon representatives agreed to return for the September 7 meeting with all the requested documentation.
In other business, Commissioner Dave Franklin said, “It is time to form a Citizens Building Committee.” The police department has needed more space for a number of years. A previous attempt to purchase land and move the facility was met with a public outcry; however, the need for additional space has only become more pressing and the commissioners do not think there is room for adequate expansion on the current property. The commissioners will be soliciting local residents with expertise in building design and construction as well as a cross section of ordinary citizens for the building committee.
The Commissioners meet in public sessions twice a month in order to maximize the number of local residents that can attend the meetings. The next public meeting is Aug. 24 at 7 p.m.