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LI already has nearly 1,000 antennas near schools

A 262-foot broadcast antenna towers next to Kellenberg

A 262-foot broadcast antenna towers next to Kellenberg Memorial High School's campus in Uniondale (Sept. 21, 2010) Photo Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

The Town of Hempstead touts its restriction on the placement of new wireless transmitters as one that will keep them away from schoolchildren, toddlers, homeowners, even those who gather to worship.

But make no mistake: The telecommunications revolution is already here. A Newsday analysis showed just how pervasive the infrastructure has become:

Nearly 1,000 wireless transmitters are listed at more than 600 sites across Long Island within 1,500 feet of school buildings alone - including seven operated by the Town of Hempstead itself and many others operated by school districts and other municipalities. The town ordinance bans most new ones within 1,500 feet of school, day care centers, places of worship and residential buildings without extensive and costly proof of need.

Those 1,000 transmitters represent about one in six of the transmitters in Nassau and Suffolk, which are located in commercial and residential zones alike.

At least 565 transmitters listed in Nassau and 422 in Suffolk are within 1,500 feet of elementary, middle or high schools or administration buildings.

In Nassau, 81 are within 200 feet of a school; there are 28 in Suffolk.

Research to date indicates they pose no danger to people when operated according to federal safety standards, says the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates them. A major federal study is under way to confirm that. And FCC officials note that as the number of transmitters grows, they can operate at lower power levels.

But that hasn't quieted residents whose questions about health, aesthetics and property values have kept this technology a controversial addition to communities even as consumer pressure grows for better wireless coverage.

"Hempstead Town will now have the most aggressive tools at its disposal in dealing with telecommunications giants," Supervisor Kate Murray said as the new ordinance was proposed last month.

But Andrew Campanelli, an attorney for residents fighting to restrict cell towers, said Newsday's analysis showed the town's law comes too late.

"People are going to be shocked to hear how many there are near schools," he said. "Nothing like closing the barn door after the horses are out. They are patting themselves on the back for what? The antennas are up."

Many are town-owned

Newsday analyzed records of transmitters registered as of August with the FCC and the 5,679 that were identified as of October 2009 by the private website AntennaSearch.com, a data collection service that primarily serves business. It doesn't include those installed or pending since then, nor can it sort out any that might have been replaced or deactivated. But it gives a snapshot of how prevalent the technology is.

Across Long Island, school districts use transmitters for everything from wireless intercoms to two-way communications with janitors and bus drivers on their routes. They're also used for Wi-Fi networks, taxi dispatch and emergency response.

Government transmitters, also used for public services such as fire and police communications and ambulance dispatch, are exempted from Hempstead's new ordinance, which was approved Tuesday.

The town maintains a wireless transmitter atop a town water tank, just across the street from McVey Elementary School in East Meadow, and two more at the town highway department yard, a few hundred feet from the Bauer Avenue prekindergarten program in Roosevelt. One operated by Hempstead Sanitary District 6, which is a special taxing district, is several hundred feet from George Washington Elementary School in West Hempstead, records show.

"Certainly, we are looking to bolster the practices of the board of zoning appeals moving forward," said town spokesman Michael Deery.

Government transmitters serve a "public benefit," such as fire protection and snow removal, and should remain exempted, he said.

School officials in Jericho, Shelter Island and Freeport said the districts use them to power emergency phones and intercoms and to reach janitors, security staff or bus drivers.

Next to Uniondale's Kellenberg Memorial High School are 14 transmitters, licensed to the Diocese of Rockville Centre and a variety of private paging services. Diocesan spokesman Sean Dolan noted that location was home to Telecare, the Catholic broadcaster.

Nextel and New Cingular Wireless transmit from a water tank a couple of blocks from Cherry Lane Elementary School in Carle Place; AT&T has a transmitter up the street from North Bellmore's Jerusalem Avenue Middle School, the records show.

Baker Elementary School in Great Neck is not far from the Fairview Ave. Water Tank, which carries antennas for Nextel and others.

Among the many wireless transmitters serving public-safety agencies is one for the Shelter Island police department a few hundred feet from the Shelter Island School - which also has one. Speonk Fuel Co. has a transmitter not far from the East Quogue School.

Lynbrook's Davison Avenue Elementary School is not far from a transmitter maintained by Malverne village government.

Patchogue's Bay Elementary School is just up the road from a Nextel transmitter. And near Riverhead's Roanoke Avenue School, AntennaSearch.com found transmitters for the Cromarty court complex, the Riverhead Fire District, New York Telephone Company, Relay Communications Corporation, and the takeout window of a Taco Bell.

And that's just to name a few.

 

A lot 'flying around'

"There are emissions out there for everything . . . You'd be amazed at what's flying around," said Richard Comi, the consultant who helped Hempstead craft its ordinance.

Data was unavailable for day care centers or houses of worship, but town officials say antennas are increasingly likely to be concealed inside religious buildings throughout Long Island, such as the cupola that tops the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Lloyd Harbor.

But Bruce Romano, an FCC spokesman, said worried residents should know that increasing the number of wireless transmitters in a community often means each one can operate at lower power. And when better wireless coverage lights up more "bars" on a handset, that means that phone will need to emit less energy close to a caller's head to keep the call connected, too.

"People get concerned because there are more and more (antennas), but the levels at each of them are so little," said Romano. "We have some of the most stringent standards in the world."

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