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Green light for green cell tower

"I would think very hard before doing another project in the Town of Bethlehem," Butler said. ESCO is based in Delmar.

But controversy over the project was not contained to just the Planning Department. Residents have in fits and starts staged protests over cell tower construction, first over the tower planned for school district property and more recently over the ESCO application. The primary objection is over the effects of radiation emitted by cell towers. There is a host of conflicting data on the subject.

ESCO's tower would be a few hundred yards from Eagle Elementary School and not much farther from the high school.

Though there was a larger-than-usual audience at Tuesday's Planning Board meeting, only two members of the public spoke on the matter during the public comment portion of the meeting.

One, Leo Hooley, noted petitions have been collected from nearby residents who have health concerns and are also worried about property values decreasing.

"We really want you to listen to the taxpayers and the residents," Hooley said.

But as counsel to the Planning Board Keith Silliman reported, the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 prohibits public boards from taking health concerns into consideration in a review.

"To put it simply, the Town Board, the Planning Board and the Zoning Board are preempted and cannot discuss health and safety concerns," he said.

Planning Board member Steve Rice noted a Spotlight/Siena Research Institute poll conducted last year indicated a majority of town residents want improved cell phone coverage. He also spoke about the board's hands being tied.

"The health issues touch all of us...but this board is strictly and clearly prohibited from taking that into consideration," he said.

ESCO could begin construction as soon as it obtains building permits from the town, which is generally a straightforward process.""

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