The operators of the new Islandia casino do not plan to maintain a long-standing antenna atop the Islandia Marriott hotel building, upsetting members of Long Island’s ham radio community who use the antenna for reception.
The 30-year-old antenna serves two communications repeaters and the amateur radio operators who depend on the antenna says it helps them provide necessary backup communications for emergency responders during major events like the Long Island Marathon or during natural disasters like superstorm Sandy.
Casino operator Delaware North isn’t interested in maintaining the antenna as it prepares to open its new casino with 1,000 video lottery terminals in February, and has offered to assist the radio operators in moving the antenna to another location.
“We are not aware of any agreement that the previous hotel owner had in place to allow the antenna to be housed on the property and we will no longer permit the use of the equipment or access to the roof,” according to a statement provided by a Delaware North spokesman.
The antenna’s broadcast area covers the towns of Islip, Babylon, Brookhaven, and Smithtown, and provides the Red Cross with secondary support as well as emergency responders working large events.
“We work all of the marathons and all the races for Suffolk County, and we monitor for medical dropouts if runners get hurt. We can transmit faster than cellphones can because of so many people using the cell network,” said John Melfi, an amateur radio operator from Babylon Village. “We’ve been the primary backup for all of the shelters on Long Island,” including during recent blizzards and hurricanes.
“It really affects people truly, and not just theoretically,” said Preston Waterman, 55, of Bay Shore, an amateur radio operator who installed the Islandia antenna back in the late 1980s and has kept it running since.
Waterman said the Islandia Marriott is uniquely suited to hosting the antenna and he has operated it there without incident until Delaware North bought the building.
“The arrangements have been continuing through multiple owners, multiple managers,” he said. “The fact is the building has generators so it’s a perfect situation if the power goes out. What’s also perfect about it, the communications box is near the antenna so there’s no loss over distance, and the box is inside the elevator room so it’s climate-controlled. The physical location, a 10-story building on a ridge in the middle of Long Island, is also key. ”
In the statement, the Delaware North spokesman said the antenna maintenance poses a nuisance to the casino operations.
“We became aware that a high-voltage area on the hotel’s roof was being used to house an amateur radio antenna — only after we noticed the area was frequently being randomly accessed via the hotel stairs by people who were neither staff nor guests,” the statement reads.
“The area needs to be secure due to safety and security concerns, so we have taken steps to limit access. We asked the leader of the amateur radio group who approached us to find another location for the antenna, and we offered our assistance in moving the equipment.”
Waterman said he hopes that Delaware North officials will change their minds and allow the antenna to remain in operation. If the cost of the electricity is an issue, he said he is willing to reimburse Delaware North. “We can put a meter there and say, ‘Here’s a check,’ ” he said.
“It’s available to anybody to use, and I personally fund it. I give to the community,” Waterman added. “I love to do it.”
Ham radios use dedicated frequencies to communicate between relay stations. The radios can communicate without needing cell towers, internet access or even electricity if battery or generator power is available. An antenna on a high location is vital to ham radio communications.