A group of local residents expressed concern and outright opposition to Putnam County’s plan to construct a cell tower during an Aug. 24 Carmel Town Board meeting.
The county is seeking to put up a new 180-foot tall tower on county-owned property on Hill Street in Mahopac. On Aug. 2, the county Legislature voted to delay going forward with a SEQRA review of the Hill Street proposal, as well as a proposal for a tower on a Town Park Lane spot in Putnam Valley, but will begin a review of the 29 Milan location in Southeast and 112 Old Route 6 location in Carmel.
The county is working with Homeland Towers to improve wireless service for emergency responders and have a $3.5 million grant from the federal government, which expires at the end of 2017, to work with.
Town Supervisor Ken Schmitt said there was a need for the cell tower. “We do have a problem with communication,” he said. “There are dead zones.”
Deputy County Executive Bruce Walker said “a risk assessment” was conducted for the county. Currently, there is difficulty for police and emergency responders to communicate, he said. The towers are being sought by the county due to the current “lack of coverage” for communication for police and other first responders, he said.
Anthony Sutton, commissioner of the county’s Bureau of Emergency Services, also told the town board the cell tower was needed to improve communication for emergency services workers.
“I think we all understand the need for this,” Sutton said.
Homeland Towers would lease space on the proposed tower with phone companies and the county would receive a portion of the monies generated to improve communications for first responders, Sutton said. The cell tower proposed for Mahopac would be made to resemble a tree, similar to the towers located on the Hutchinson River Parkway, Sutton said.
Councilwoman Suzi McDonough asked if there would be health risks associated with proposed tower. Sutton said there was “no conclusive evidence it’s harmful” to local residents unless someone climbed up the tower.
The county Legislature would need to declare itself as the lead agency for the environmental review of the project, Walker said. The approval process could be completed next year, he said.
The county will provide regular updates about the project to the town board, Walker said. “We need to get this done,” he said.
Despite the county officials’ advocacy for the proposed tower, the residents who spoke at last week’s meeting voiced opposition to the project. County Legislator Dini LoBue said the county should seek another location for the tower that would be further away from homes. Walker said the county could explore moving the proposed tower further away from homes, but it did not want to move it closer to a school located in the neighborhood.
Scott Road resident Victoria Donnelly passionately expressed her opposition to the project. Residents of her street were not informed about the project early on in the process, she said. “We should have been notified in February,” she said.
Donnelly said she was concerned about potential health risks associated with the tower, particularly for her children. Her family should have been allowed the opportunity to sell their house earlier this year if they knew about the project earlier, she said.
Carmel resident Ann Fanizzi said, “The devil is in the details.”
Fanizzi said the town board should have been vocal and expressed its opposition to the county about the proposed tower as Putnam Valley Supervisor Sam Oliverio had been. “It depends on this supervisor. It depends on this board,” she said.
Fanizzi said a full scale environmental review of the project should be conducted.
Allan James Warnecke, a genealogist with the Westchester-Putnam Chapter of the National Society for the Sons of the American Revolution, agreed with the comments from Fanizzi calling for a full environmental review of the project because the tower would be placed on parkland. A full review of the proposal would indicate the county needed an alternative site for the proposed tower, he said.
Local EMS and ambulance volunteers who came to the meeting in support of the project did not address the town board.