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A Tower of Issues
[Rachel's Introduction: "If you look at these things [radio towers], it's pretty convincing that you've got a real question mark here, and that it would pay to err on the precautionary side," BRACT member Joseph DiGennaro said at a meeting on Monday.]
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By Brian Brennan
A small but determined group of Bayville residents is not giving up on blocking a T-band, digital turnkey radio system from being erected on the water tower at 34 School Street, or on existing commercial antennas removed from the tower.

The village board of trustees voted in April to okay the new system, under pressure from Nassau County, which said the equipment was necessary to enhancing the county's first responder system.

The system would consist of two electromagnetic microwave dishes and four radio frequency (RF) antennas. These would be joining as many as 52 RF antennas that have been placed on the tower by commercial wireless companies since the early 1990s. The village puts yearly rental revenue from the companies at around $200,000.

Opponents fear the effects of the microwave radiation, especially as the water tower is caddy corner to the Bayville Primary School. They have formed a coalition called Bayville Residents Against Cell Tower (BRACT) and filed a lawsuit against the village. They are represented by the Coalition of Landlords, Homeowners and Merchants.

BRACT argues that it has not been satisfactorily proved that RF waves are not harmful to human health; and that policymakers must therefore operate on the so-called precautionary principle. The principle -- now the rule in environmental policy in several countries and a few American municipalities -- states that an activity must not be carried out until it has been demonstrated that it is not harmful to public or environmental health.

"If you look at these things, it's pretty convincing that you've got a real question mark here; that it would pay to err on the precautionary side," BRACT member Joseph DiGennaro said at a meeting on Monday. Dr. DiGennaro has spent nearly 40 years as a professor of environmental, community and personal health at Hunter, Lehman and Nassau Community colleges, and at Hofstra University. He and his wife JoTina are spearheading BRACT's efforts.

"We're fighting a couple of things here, I think," said JoTina DiGennaro. "I don't think people are completely aware of what the situation is and how dangerous it is. I think some people are very, very attached to their cell phones, which is fine, but you can't put that above our own health and the health of our children."

BRACT is not satisfied with the findings of a study conducted for the village by the Planning and Research Consulting Associates (PARC Associates) because it was paid for by Motorola, which won the contract to erect the new system.

The study found that the radiation generated by the tower would be less than one-tenth the level allowed by US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) guidelines.

"The expected increases of electromagnetic radiation levels are small in Bayville, because the energy radiated by the proposed antennas would go far overhead," the report reads. "It would be very weak when it reaches a few people in Mill Neck. There should be no fear of microwave or other Radio Frequency exposure to adults or small children living in Bayville or attending either Bayville school."

At a meeting last year, Bayville Mayor Victoria Siegel said that the village commissioned the study on its own and that it was only agreed after the fact that Motorola would pay for it.

The findings of the study are in keeping with those of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the World Health Organization (WHO) that risks to human health are negligible, though both bodies continue to examine the issue.

However, those who lobby against cell towers in residential neighborhoods argue that federal research has been inadequate and underfunded; and that telecommunications industry lobbyists have wielded undue influence in policy making. They also highlight a perceived inappropriateness in the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) -- rather than a health agency -- regulating RF standards.

There is a stumbling block to the regulation of wireless facilities by local and state governments in the form of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The act prohibits municipalities from barring RF applications on the basis of environmental effects, so long as the applicants are in compliance with FCC regulations.

According to the text of the act, "As written, the purpose of the requirement is to prevent telecommunications siting decisions from being based upon unscientific or irrational fears that emissions from telecommunications sites may cause undesirable health effects. In a surprising number of public hearings on the issue of cellular siting, individuals appear and complain of allegedly harmful health effects, although the authors know of no studies substantiating such claims."

The act supports the position of the Bayville Board of Trustees, who have insisted that their powers of refusal in cases of wireless applicants are limited.

BRACT, on the other hand, say that their case is a strong one, in view of the deed by which a Mona Williams donated the land on which the tower stands to the village in December of 1950.

The deed states that "no commercial enterprises shall be permitted thereon and, in addition, no use of the premises shall be made or permitted which would be offensive, dangerous or obnoxious to the owners or any owner (now or hereafter) of land within a radius of one- quarter of a mile of the premises..."

Mayor Siegel has said that the village refused to rent space on the tower until informed by legal counsel that the restrictions written into the deed had expired.

That they really have expired is disputed by some who point to an April 1954 indenture.

The indenture says that the restrictions would only be in place through 1978 if the property passed out of village hands, but adds, "So long as said parcel more particularly described hereinabove is owned by [Bayville], said restrictive covenants shall be deemed in full force and effect."

The mayor has said that the village could only legally remove contractees' antennas if it relocated the antennas to another location within its borders.

With the federal government behind them, it does not seem likely that the commercial customers would go quietly.

Nor will the county. The Suozzi administration was harsh in its criticism last year of Bayville and 23 other municipalities that it accused of hampering necessary safety enhancements.

The new system, the county argued, would allow Nassau to have its own unique frequency, rather than having to continue to sharing a UHF band with municipalities in New Jersey. Sharing the band, the county claimed, has forced its emergency personnel to transmit at levels that do not interfere with co-users, but that limit radio traffic capacity.

The county insists that the new coverage would be far more comprehensive and reliable, and allow for solid interoperability throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties, New York City, and the areas three miles out into Long Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean

Copyright 2006 Northender.com

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