Written by Rich Forestano and Melissa Argueta Friday, 30 April 2010 00:00
The Verizon Wireless plant is once again the source of dispute for the Villages of Mineola and Garden City. Months after angry residents spoke to Anton Community Newspapers about the loud noise emanating from equipment, the mayor of Mineola announced the possibility of initiating a lawsuit against not only Verizon, but also the Village of Garden City.
John and Ida Ferrieria, longtime members of the Mineola community, who own the “For Birds Only” store on Jericho Turnpike, have lived in their home on 13th Avenue in the Village of Mineola for the last 32 years. They say their quality of life has been disturbed by the noise levels generated from an ongoing construction project at the Verizon facility, which borders the Mineola neighborhood where they live.
Last year, the Ferrierias brought their concerns to Mineola Mayor Jack M. Martins and the Mineola Village Board; however the Verizon plant is located within the boundaries of Garden City. At the most recent Garden City Village Board of Trustees meeting, Superintendent of Buildings Michael Filippon wanted to set the record straight on what has taken place at the facility, after a recent news story on the controversy aired on CBS. “What I would like to say about this is that, as happens so often, a lot of confusion and distortion of the facts takes place. The way this is being portrayed is a total mischaracterization of what is taking place at that facility,” he stated. He wanted to clarify that the project was not an expansion of the facility as reported, but was primarily an installation of mechanical equipment both inside and outside of the building.
Filippon explained that “what’s being portrayed as a so-called expansion is really an architectural screen, which our village code requires when you install mechanical equipment on a roof, and this was passed by our Architectural Design & Review Board.” He also explained that the screen is required and serves two purposes: to act as a visual buffer to the unattractive mechanical equipment and also serves to attenuate some of the sound that would be emitted from that equipment.
Filippon went on to say that there was an emergency generator test performed on April 10, of which Verizon notified the villages of Mineola and Garden City and the individual homeowners directly affected by the site, via hand-delivered letters.
According to Filippon, the test was conducted on an existing generator that has been in the building for many years. He stated that this is the final test that had to be run, wherein they are required to “dump the power” and ensure that the generator can take over and handle all the equipment that is running there. “We’ve done this on numerous buildings where they have emergency generators. In this case, it’s even more critical…It’s a very critical facility. It handles all of Queens, part of Brooklyn and Nassau and Suffolk counties with their cellular service,” Filippon stated. He also stated that Garden City Police Department and the Village did not receive any complaints during the testing. He also stated that he was told that the Village Clerk of Mineola Joseph Scalero was on site during the test.
Filippon stated that a few days later, some of the glass-block windows had to be removed using a jackhammer and the noise may have upset some people further. “It’s unfortunate that the mayor of Mineola is choosing to make a cause célèbre out of this and is threatening litigation not only against Verizon, but also against the village [of Garden City],” Filippon said. During the meeting, Deputy Mayor Donald Brudie stated that he met with Martins on April 8 and is in communication with him.
Mayor Martins and members of the Village of Mineola Board of Trustees met with Garden City officials regarding the issues of noise, safety and health concerns surrounding the Verizon plant on April 21. He revealed that same night at a Village of Mineola Board meeting that the Village of Garden City has not issued a certificate of completion in regard to the project, which is in the process of being completed. As of April 22, the project is 97 percent complete.
The Village of Mineola Board and the Village of Garden City officials have agreed to meet at the plant to evaluate the continuing issues to address the noise concerns. No date has been announced.
According to Martins, decibel readings will be taken in the area along the residential property line as well as the building zone. The levels will be measured at the fence that separates the plant from 13th Avenue in Mineola. Martins said that in speaking to the Garden City officials he doesn’t think they understand the impact it has on the community.
“We want to get sense of the levels of the noise being emitted by those units on the roof,” Martins said. “[Garden City] is committed to cooperating. They wish to have this issue resolved amicably and certainly that is always the first level of discourse of any attempt to resolve any situation.”
That being said, the Mineola Village Board has asked its attorney John Spellman to review the situation for the possibility of a lawsuit if that becomes necessary. Martins said “it’s on the table,” but indicated that it’s not something the Board wants to do.
“We are exploring a lawsuit,” Martins said. “But we’re looking to get the issue resolved and we will continue to do so.”
Final noise testing commenced on April 10, and the Mineola Village Board was assured last year when the complaints began that the sound issues would be addressed at the completion of the project. But the Village of Mineola wants additional tests, hence the meeting of the two villages.
“When the solution presents itself, it has to make sense for the residents that live alongside of the facility,” according to Martins. “Over the course of the next few weeks, we want to encourage Verizon to put in the necessary sound-canceling equipment that will prevent the noise from traveling.”
Martins, like many of the residents present at the meeting, felt that if this building was built in the heart of Garden City, it would never have passed their village board.
“This would never have been built alongside a community in Garden City,” Martins said. “They would have never allowed it. If it were on the south side of Old Country Road, it would have never gotten this far.”
Residents present at the meeting felt that Garden City is ignoring Mineola residents and that they’re doing it “shadily.” This is not the case, according to Martins.
There were permits issued, applications were reviewed and Garden City approved it and Verizon was in regulation with the village’s requirements. Martins said the board will be reviewing those permits and applications.
However, some feel quite differently. “I leave at 10 in the morning and come home at 10 at night,” resident Fhabir Malik said. “I can’t work 12 or 13 hours a day and come home to a freight train.”
The Ferrierias were in attendance at the meeting last Tuesday and have expressed their concerns ten-fold for some time, and feel that the time has come for serious measures to be taken. “Enough is enough,” John Ferrieria said. “We have to sue. I want to open my window 2 inches at night and the noise comes in. I can’t take it anymore.”
Another issue that keeps coming up is the odor that emanates from the the plant. Thirteenth Avenue resident Susan Coyne’s main concern is being able to spend time outside during the warm weather months.
“The week before Easter when it was 80 degrees, there was black smoke coming out of the chimney of the building,” Coyne said. “It smelled like rotten eggs in my backyard. I’m really afraid of what’s going to happen with the warm weather.”
That black smoke actually comes from an exhaust port on the backup generator that has been on the building for 30 years, according to what Garden City officials told Martins and it operates on diesel fuel. When the generator starts, it kicks out black smoke. The Mineola Village Board said it will follow up on the odor issue as soon as possible.
Mineola Village Clerk Joseph Scalero told Anton Community Newspapers that on April 22, Mayor Martins instructed him to bring a recorded copy of the trustees’ meeting to Garden City’s Village Administrator Robert Schoelle. According to Scalero, upon viewing the meeting, Schoelle and the building department of Garden City went down to the plant that afternoon to survey the property.