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Bohemia fire commissioners vow never to install cell towers on district property

Bohemia resident Steve Zaino criticizes the commissioners of

Bohemia resident Steve Zaino criticizes the commissioners of the Bohemia Fire District for going into executive session last month to discuss personnel issues instead of answering questions about the controversial 120-foot-tall cell towers they planned to erect on fire department property. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

The Bohemia Fire Department has backed out of a plan to build cell towers on district property and agreed to not allow them to be installed in the future after angry residents confronted commissioners at a tense meeting last week.

To raucous applause from about 125 residents at a business meeting Thursday, commissioners announced the fire district would withdraw its application to have East Islip-based Highlander Consultants build two cell towers at its Pearl Street firehouse and behind the fire station on Eighth Street.

"Effective tonight, we will be canceling the contract with the cell company," said Commissioner Frank Wilhelm.

Commissioner Thomas Riedel also proposed that in order to quell the community's "suspicious feelings," the board vote to "never put cell tower equipment on any district property."

The board unanimously approved the resolutions ending the Highlander project and prohibiting any cell installations in the future.

Highlander approached the department a year ago about building cell towers on its property. The cellphone tower installation company offered the department $100,000 for each tower, plus new radio antenna equipment for the department. The company also proposed giving the department as much as 40 percent of the revenue Highlander received from cell service providers using the towers -- as much as $16,000 per month, commissioners said.

Calls to Highlander Consultants were not answered.

Residents complained about what they saw as a lack of information from the department about the project, health concerns about cell tower transmissions, and fears that property values would be diminished.

Residents said they were pleased fire commissioners heeded their concerns.

Paul North said the pledge to never build cell towers on district property was comforting. "If that's really the case, that would be great," he said.

"They finally realized how much this affects the community," Deborah Sclafani said. "I think it's a win for everyone."

Wilhelm said department officials will research other ways to improve its radio communications. Some commissioners said they were baffled by the public response to what they saw as a way to upgrade their radio equipment at no cost to the community.

"The money was going back to you people, the taxpayers," Raymond Audett said. New radio equipment will likely result in a tax increase, he added.

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