Williston residents speak out against AT&T proposal

Williston residents speak out against AT&T proposal
Mayor Paul Ehrbar, pictured far left, trustee Michael Uttaro, center, heard from radio frequency engineer for AT&T Dan Penesso at a public hearing last Monday night. (Photo by Samuele Petruccelli)

A proposal to install telecommunications equipment on a water tower in Williston Park was met by pushback from residents at a public hearing on Monday.

Twelve antennas, the tops of which would rise 181 feet above ground level and be painted to match the color of the tower, have been proposed by AT&T. Additionally, the proposal includes a diesel generator installed at ground level to operate once a week for approximately an hour.

Anna Mercado Clark, a partner at Phillips Lytle LLP and an adjunct professor of law at Fordham University, represented AT&T and answered questions from the public and the Village of Williston Park Board of Trustees.

“Not only does AT&T want to provide an adequate service to its subscribers, but also it is obligated to provide those services and remedy this service gap,” Clark said. “We propose that this is the least intrusive means by which we can address this.”

Besides any aesthetic intrusions, representatives for AT&T also offered their calculations of potential electromagnetic energy that would reach ground level. Dan Penesso,  a radio frequency engineer for the company, said: “Electromagnetic energy that would be at ground level is 0.05%. FCC guidelines allow up to 100% to be compliant.”

Clark added that the technology that would be installed would stay within safe exposure levels for humans.

“FCC has recently as of December of 2019 reevaluated its safe exposure levels and reaffirmed those safe exposure levels and those are the levels we use for our calculations,” Clark said. “The American Cancer Society has also abided that this type of technology as Dan mentioned is non-ionizing which means it does not have the capability to modify human cells.”

Clark added that the conservative nature of her client’s calculations mean that radio frequency levels could be less than what is projected.

The hearing also outlined Williston Park’s financial benefits from an AT&T’s installation. Rent would be paid at $5,000 per month subject to a 3% escalator for five years, along with five renewal terms. Over 30 years, AT&T representatives said, the village could collect nearly $2.854 million.

“AT&T is prepared to sign the lease in its current form,” Clark said. “AT&T will also provide $50,000 of a capital contribution, not a part of the lease term but something the party has negotiated separately.”

Even so, residents of Williston Park voiced concerns with the proposal. Linda Piccirilli lives on Princeton Street and asked the board not to approve the application given the proposal’s proximity to local parks.

“It places the interests of a single industry ahead of those local communities,” Piccirilli said. “Why would we want to place anything that could cause potential harm so close to these locations?”

For AT&T, Clark also offered an argument citing increasing telecommunications use in homes.

“As we have seen during the pandemic, there’s also been an increased demand and increased need for additional bandwidth capacity and coverage for residents who are now increasingly working and studying from their homes,” Clark said. “We suspect that that trend will continue.”

Dennis Fediw, also a Williston Park resident, asked  the Board of Trustees, “What is the reward for the risk we’re going to put the village residents at?”

Though AT&T offered a presentation to the village board and members of the public on the health risks of the telecommunications devices, the board may not have significant authority to prevent the proposal.

“The municipality cannot deny the application for health and safety reasons if the telecommunications application is in compliance with FCC requirements,” Clark said. “We want to be a good partner to the village, but the FCC sets the regulation and as long as we can be in compliance the board does not have authority to deny the application.”

Even so, longtime residents like Lorraine Hale remained concerned.

“Every choice that we make can take us down a slippery slope,” Hale said. “My concern is that as we continue to trade our village lifestyle for an urban lifestyle, that this would be a precursor, or a first step, to other decisions that we would make that would take us further and further away from a lifestyle that we all enjoy so much in Williston Park.”

AT&T representatives said that there will be no significant change to the appearance of the water tank.

Andrew Ramsingh, a village resident who lives on Princeton Street, also asked the board to consider what benefits there were to the facilities.

“I am a backyard away from this generator going off,” Ramsingh said. “If I’m meditating during that hour, it’s going to be pretty loud.”

Ramsingh also directed a question to the AT&T representatives, asking, “Would you put it in your backyard?”

“This is not our ideal facility,” Clark said. “AT&T would prefer to be somewhere else but in order to try to avoid residential areas … we had identified this water tower as the least intrusive.”

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