LEWISTON – A $10 million project to improve communication between emergency workers here is a federal mandate. But a tower just put up by Niagara County at the Upper Mountain Road Fire Hall has Town of Lewiston residents angry about how close it is to their homes.
They also want to know why no one contacted them prior to putting the tower up two weeks ago. They expressed their anger and frustration at a special meeting Wednesday at the Upper Mountain Road Fire Hall.
“It was put up in one week, 50 feet from our backyard. That was very sneaky, “ said Susan Deal. “We never had any information sent to us.”
Bill Bradfield, who also lives on Upper Mountain Road in the shadow of the tower, said, “When someone wants to put a fence up you get a letter. But I came home one day, and there’s a tower in my backyard.”
Mike Harper, the project manager from Kimball and Associates, said the tower sites, five of which are located throughout the county, sit on sites designed to provide maximum coverage for providers.
Concerns about the tower falling and potential for dangerous radio emissions were brought up, but Harper said these towers are built to a stringent code above state standards.
He noted that even during Hurricane Katrina these types of towers did not fall. And he added that the amount of radio frequency exposure from a cellphone is a “million times higher” than these towers.
Niagara County 10th District Legislator David Godfrey said the aim of the tower is to help the county’s emergency workers.
“We don’t want a policeman going in and not being able to communicate,” Godfrey said.
He said county officials drove thousands of miles, checking sites before choosing them, but were under the gun to get the towers in or they would face hefty fines from the FCC.
Godfrey said they spent a lot of time trying to put the tower at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, but it was rejected due to the Niagara Reservoir, which distorted the signal. The reservoir sits directly behind the Upper Mountain Road Fire Hall.
“There was no other way we could cover the gorge,” said Godfrey. “I know it’s an eyesore and you have issues with it, but there’s certain requirements for operability. It is about saving lives. That line of sight is very important.”
Harper and others at the meeting conceded that they wouldn’t want the tower in their backyard, but they said they did their due diligence with public notices and open comment periods in 2012 and 2013.