2008-05-02 / Front Page

West End Cell Antennas?

By Nicholas Briano

Will there soon be eight cell phone antennas constructed on light poles throughout the west end of the Rockaway peninsula?

Angry Neponsit residents protest on Beach 147 Street and hold up signs expressing their disgust with the potential of cell antennas installed in their neighborhoods. Angry Neponsit residents protest on Beach 147 Street and hold up signs expressing their disgust with the potential of cell antennas installed in their neighborhoods. The answer to that question depends on to whom you talk about the controversial issue.

Metro-PCS, the same company that recently lost the right to place a cell antenna on the roof of the West End Temple, will install the system.NextG Networks, which will operate the system, says that it has an absolute right under its contract with the city to place the antennas in any location it deems appropriate, without any city or local approval.

Commissioner Paul Casgrove, the head of the city's Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DOITT), told The Wave that NextG Networks does have the right to place 1,200 cell antennas throughout the city in locations of their choosing, but that the agency was trying to convince the franchise companies to meet with the community prior to constructing the antennas.

An example of the proposed Distributed Antenna System (DAS) located on an existing street light post. The box is located midway up the pole. The antenna rests on top. An example of the proposed Distributed Antenna System (DAS) located on an existing street light post. The box is located midway up the pole. The antenna rests on top. "It is our intent that they meet with the community, but they have no legal obligation to do so," Casgrove told The Wave on Wednesday night.

Democratic District Leader Lew Simon, who met with representatives from both the city and the companies involved on Wednesday evening, says that the cell antennas will be built despite the community's opposition and that he and a number of local leaders, including Peter Sammon, the President of the Neponsit Property Owners Association, plan to sue both the city and the companies to stop the antennas from being constructed.

The cell antennas are planned for Newport Avenue and Beach 147 Street, Cronston Avenue and Beach 144 Street, Rockaway Beach Boulevard and Beach 142 Street, Newport Avenue and Beach 138 Street, Beach Channel Drive and Beach 132 Street, Rockaway Beach Boulevard at Beach 134 Street and the Riis Park Circle.

Neponsit residents, joined by Simon, protested the construction of the cell antennas for the second time in a week last Sunday on Beach 147 Street.

Simon was joined by Sammon and approximately 125 residents in arguing against the possibility of "cell towers" being installed on top of their neighborhood light posts.

Simon told the crowd that last week's Wave story was incorrect, and that the antenna construction was not "on hold," as reported by Community Board 14 District Manager Jonathan Gaska.

"Gaska was wrong, and the construction of cell towers is not on hold," Simon bellowed through his bullhorn.

However, the devices to be built in Rockaway are not cell towers, but rather Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS), which consist of small telecommunications boxes mounted on existing poles, with antennas sprouted through the top of the pole, measuring four feet by two feet. They are used to improve not only cell service, but WiFiand broadband capabilities as well.

The Neponsit residents who protested last Sunday, and who held up signs of protest that said "No to Microwaving, No to Cell Towers," probably will not be affected, "microwaved" or victimized by radiation, company officials say, because the radiation from the fiber optic-driven network of the antennas installed by NextG Networks are low enough to not require routine environmental compliance testing from the FCC for radio-frequency exposure.

NextG Networks Vice President of Government Relations and Regulatory Affairs, Robert Delsman, told The Wave that when he spoke with Simon last week he offered to show him studies that have been done in regard to their structures, but Simon refused and showed no interest.

"I held a meeting in community consideration," Delsman said. "We are willing to listen and hear his suggestions.

"These people may just not want this, because we offered to show him the data that we have and he refused," he continued.

Delsman added that his company has a contract with the city that he believes benefits the people of New York City. If they withdraw from any contractual project they would be held accountable, but NextG is willing to consider alternate sites.

"We will consider other places in the area if they are feasible with our fran- chise and our contract regulations," he said.

According to NextG's website, the antennas produce Radio-Frequency radiation at levels 50 - 100 times below the FCC's permitted maximums for general-populated areas. Therefore, NextG Networks says, it's antennas have absolutely no harmful radio-frequency emissions, which is the basis of the protest in Neponsit, where residents feel their health is in danger if installation is so close to their homes.

DOITT is authorized by the city to issue franchises for the siting of these types of telecommunications. Companies apply with DOITT to install such devices on top of city light poles. NextG Networks is one of the companies that has a franchise.

According to NextG, their antenna installations provide a safe, healthy, and environmentally friendly alternative to cell towers that have been feared in communities for many years due to the unknown safety concerns commonly associated with them.

The fiber optic network, however, improves cell phone service without the use of towers or roof-mounted antennas and utilizes low-emission equipment to ensure the public's safety.

Neponsit residents don't want any telecommunications devices nearby their homes, and want the city and NextG out of their neighborhood.

"They are just not looking for sensible alternatives," one protester yelled.

Another woman exclaimed in front of the house at 326 Beach 147 Street, "This just can't happen here!"

Sammon, a 40-year Rockaway resident, joined the protesting group and urged his neighbors to call 311 to register complaints with the city.

"Tell them you don't want this," Sammon said. "Tell all your friends and register your dissatisfaction."

"The community doesn't want this," Simon reiterated. "I plan on spending hours, days, to talk them out of doing this."

Simon said he'd be glad to give DOITT alternate sites because he doesn't want anything near someone's house. He insisted the community had to join together in numbers to win the fight.

"This is something the community will have to work together as a team," he continued. "We don't want these things in our backyards."

Gaska, who first heard that the city plans to hold off on the project, says that no plans will be approved without the community board hearing about it first.

According to the district manager, he was told by the mayor's office that the community would be informed of any specific plans and that nothing is imminent.

Delsman, who was at the Wednesday meeting with Simon, Sammon, a representative from DOITT and other community representatives, including local lawyers, says that the meeting ended inconclusively.

"It was clear that [the community's] concern was based almost entirely on fears regarding RF emissions, and at base they took exception to the entire franchise scheme that allows wireless devices in the public way in residential areas of the city," he said. "They made it clear that they would do everything in their power, both legally and politically, to stop the development of the planned sites in the area."

Delsman pledged to work with the community to find alternative sites for the antennas "on private property..

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