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A “Cell-Out” of Manhasset Isle?

The subject of the health, welfare and safety of Port Washington residents ignited a hot debate during Manorhaven’s town hall meeting held Oct. 22. More than 100 angry and incredulous residents packed the village headquarters to express their extreme displeasure regarding the installation of a cell phone tower on Pequot Avenue. Residents stated that their attempts to communicate with officials have fallen on deaf ears.

Prior to opening the meeting for public comments, the village distributed a public information packet that contained copies of all actions taken by the former mayor and his administration. Although the current mayor, Michael Meehan, commented that he would have never approved such a decision, the fact remains that he, as well as some current board members who were involved in the process have “inherited” a huge problem. In attendance included village attorney Gerard Terry and members of the board of trustees for the village of Manorhaven – John Di Leo Jr., Brendan Fahey and Rita DiLucia.

In an effort to determine whether the legal chain of events can stand, the board passed a unanimous resolution to hire special counsel on behalf of the village. The law firm of Lynne, Gartner & Dunne in Garden City will be retained to investigate and to report as to the legal options of Manorhaven, if any, in respect to all grants, approvals and permits previously issued. The board emphasized that until the findings have been “received, discussed and analyzed,” no certificate of occupancy will be issued. It was also noted that some or all of the report may contain privileged information so the public may not be able to review it. In spite of the overriding sentiment to “get rid of the tower,” the board reiterated that it couldn’t and wouldn’t speculate on an eventual outcome. Some residents believe that not only was the approval to grant zoning variances and to authorize lease options inherently wrong for the community but ethically objectionable and possibly illegal.

It appears that the main issue is one of health and safety. They feel that, despite industry claims to the contrary, the amount of radioactive emissions generated by the tower will prove to be hazardous and carcinogenic. Residents cited European studies and the fact that nearby Bayville is already experiencing a cluster of lupus and leukemia diagnoses from a similar type of installation done in 2007. Many parents expressed their disbelief that the tower was approved in the first place because its location is the middle of a crowded residential area. They feel that every child in Port Washington is in jeopardy.

Angele Militina, whose house is approximately 20’ away from the tower, can’t believe its proximity to her home and encourages anyone driving “downtown,” to check out its massive presence on Pequot Avenue. The Militina family also stated that the impact of the construction damaged the foundation of their house and that several of its operating systems are in disrepair. Over the past few months they said that their online queries as to the background of AG Towers have resulted in nebulous findings including safety issues.

Other residents commented that ignorance may be bliss but when village meetings are scheduled a week before major holidays and people are presumably too distracted to take notice, political intentions may be viewed as somewhat murky. It’s unclear as to the status of the area’s zoning designations and longtime resident Arthur Lampis questioned the validity of the tower’s air rights looming over neighborhood houses. Jeff Losquadro, an Albertson resident who is running for county legislator, spoke at the invitation of local organizer Giovanna Giunta. He commended the board for passing the resolution but called into question several points from the village’s own legislation that may indicate the village acted in haste and without regard. His summary was met with applause because as Trish Jester remarked, “All we care about is the health of our children. My son shouldn’t have to be afraid to go to sleep when he looks out the window and sees a tower. We don’t want to be sacrificial lambs for the $1,500 in rent the village is supposed to receive each month.”

In addition to the potential health concerns, residents maintain that the tower will contribute to a decrease in property values throughout Manhasset Isle and Manorhaven. They view it as an eyesore that’s aesthetically displeasing for a local neighborhood and that its negative impact far outweighs any future benefits to the village. In fact, when questioned, the board responded that the village has yet to receive any funds from AG Towers. Vicky Spielman also spoke to applause with her point that the village should be more concerned with the good of its residents than its attempt to cover itself legally. She discussed that serious mistakes were made in the initial decisions and that although the “horse is out of the barn,” the situation can be rectified.

Bernadette Dolan suggested that the village’s lack of a plan to measure the tower’s emissions was wrong and there should be accountability if the village continues to act in a landlord role.

Sentiments during the meeting included disgust and despair. Emotions ran high because many believed that the Village of Manorhaven will attempt to bury the issues in rhetoric and finger pointing. Certain officials were accused of lying and others remained silent – one attendee called all talk, cheap. Mayor Meehan agreed with the crowd’s criticism that he failed to communicate certain aspects of recent events but reiterated there will continue to be due process. The village attorney stressed that the current administration is bound by the actions of their predecessors and that they “can’t make it up as they go along.”

In the end, the crowd remained unhappy.

(Ed.’s note: Residents For A More Beautiful Port Washington (www.pwresidents.org) issued the following statement regarding the cell tower in the Village of Manorhaven:

“The siting of cell phone towers on government property requires the balancing of many factors. Residents For A More Beautiful Port Washington has been informed that a cell phone tower is currently being constructed in Manorhaven at the sewage pumping station on the corner of Pequot Ave/Sintsink.

“We have been informed that a resolution was adopted by the Village of Manorhaven in December 2007 authorizing the siting of a cell tower at this location. Residents will be meeting with village officials and will seek information regarding the public notice that was provided to the village and greater Port communities prior to adoption of the 2007 village resolution and the consideration given to various factors including proximity to residences, aesthetic concerns and other factors. Residents will share the information that we learn with our members as well as anyone else who requests it.”)