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Manhasset Isle Cell Tower Controversy Continues

Hundreds turn out to protest; village trustees say federal court has decided issue

On Sunday, March 18, hundreds of residents marched from Manorhaven Park to the cell tower on Pequot Avenue chanting “No power to the tower.” The crowd grew from approximately 100 people to more than double that number as additional protesters joined the marchers at the cell phone tower.

Several people spoke to the group. Giovanna Giunta, organizer of the march, stressed that the group is not opposed to cell phone towers, just the particular location of the cell tower in Manhasset Isle. The tower appears to be less than 30 feet from the nearest house and gives new meaning to the phrase “not in my back yard.” It is also next to the main water sewer substation and above the main sewer line for the village.

In a statement, Giunta emphasized that the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 gives telecommunications companies a pass on possible long term health issues associated with proximity to cell phone towers. Governments are barred from refusing a lease to a telecommunications company based upon health concerns and local citizens are barred from bringing legal action based on health concerns. The federal government has established minimum safety standards for towers. If a company demonstrates compliance with the standards, they can build.

Patti Wood, executive director of Grass Roots Environmental Education, an organization based in Port Washington, says that, “The minimal government safety standards do not protect human health.”

Giunta maintains that the placement of the tower being so close to homes, schools and places of worship not only presents a health hazard, but negatively impacts real estate values and rents in the area. In addition, some communities require a no fall zone, so that if the tower should fall it would not harm homes or other buildings. Giunta said that the Village of Manorhaven does not have such a requirement. Not only is the tower beside a home, it is feet from a water sewer substation which protesters believe could result in even more danger should the tower fall.

Leaders of the protest accuse the village government of failing to represent their best interests. However, the present village administration points out that they inherited a valid contract with A. G. Towers, Inc., the cell tower operator, from the previous administration. Village Mayor Michael Meehan maintains he has consistently opposed the tower by all legal means available to the village, but given the fact that his administration inherited a binding contract, remedies have been few.

Unlike many public discussions, in this discourse there are certain facts all parties agree upon. A valid contract was established between A.G. Towers, Inc. and the Village of Manorhaven. Permits were issued and the Village Zoning Board, ZBA, approved the site plan for the construction of the tower. The actual construction of the tower was not in compliance with the original site plan by three and a half feet on one side and six and a half feet on the other side. In 2009, when Manorhaven trustees became aware that the tower was not in compliance with the original site plan, the village issued a stop work order. A.G. Towers acknowledged the error.

Here is where things become less certain. A.G. claims in court documents that several remedies were submitted to the village, including alternate sites and moving the tower to be in compliance with the original site plan. According to the complaint brought by A.G. Towers and the criticisms by village residents, during the next two years the village did not respond to any of the alternative proposals submitted by A.G. Towers.

Steven Leventhal of the firm Leventhal, Sliney & Mullaney who represented the village in the litigation with A.G Towers said, “During the three years from the issuance of the stop work order to the ruling by Judge Hurley in October 2011, the village consistently initiated dialogue with A.G. Towers suggesting alternate sites for the cell phone tower, all of which A.G Towers found would not provide the same coverage as the Manhasset Isle site.”

In addition, Leventhal said that the village spent thousands of dollars to engage an engineering firm to study the effects of moving the tower the several feet required to bring it into compliance with the original site plan. The study determined that moving the tower by setting up an underground system of struts to anchor it to the original base would threaten the infrastructure at the site including the sewer line running to the main pumping station and electrical wiring.

Leventhal says that the assertion that the village did nothing during the three years between 2009 and 2012 is inaccurate. “They tried valiantly to find a solution to the problem they inherited, he said.” To counter arguments that the village could still appeal the Federal Court ruling that required it to lift the stop work order Leventhal said, “To bring an appeal of the court decision which lifted the stop work order you must have a reasonable expectation that you can reach a favorable outcome for your client. In this case there is no reasonable expectation of a different outcome.”

Village trustees say the village has already spent almost $100,000 in legal fees trying to stop construction of the cell tower and now that the federal court has spoken they have no recourse. They note that they are not in favor of the cell tower but have run out of options. In February, they sent a letter to all residents informing them that work on the tower would begin again. The village issued a statement on Monday explaining the circumstance in which it finds itself and noted, “It is completely irresponsible for any resident, attorney or elected official to state or suggest that the village is in the position of not having to comply with the order of the United States district judge.”

At the protest on Sunday, no one suggested non-compliance with the court decision. It seems that at this late date, the only hope of adjusting the position or location of the tower is an appeal to A.G. Towers based upon the detrimental impact to the community. Protesters are hoping that the company can be pressured by public opinion to “do the right thing” and are intent on trying this case in the court of public opinion.

Perhaps Dorit Zeevi-Farrington, who lives nearby the present cell tower site, summed it up best by saying, “As a concerned parent, I would never take a chance with my daughter, allowing her to be exposed to harmful, continuous, cumulative radiation that will potentially end up as cancer. We will simply get up and move. There are so many children living at the footsteps of this tower who are not able to get up and move…. Shame on T-Mobile and AG Towers for erecting this tower in the midst of this beautiful residential neighborhood and for not backing away in spite of the significant opposition of the residents.”