MTA installing Cell Tower near Metro-North parking lot in Wassaic

September 8, 2015- A letter was sent to the Town of Amenia from Metro-North on June 12, 2014, from Metronorth introducing the construction of a 220-foot cell tower.  “This project will take place on Metro-North property and is needed to ensure public safety and security…..The current MTA Police radio system suffers from several issues including a congested network due to inadequate radio frequencies, gaps in radio coverage throughout Metro-North’s service area and antiquated radio technology.”

The letter describes how the MTA police have partnered with the New York State police “to improve critical public safety communications through state-allocated radio channels” which will “provide uninterrupted communications throughout all Metro-North stations, on all five train lines.”  According to the letter there are dead areas where radio reception is not possible and if trains were stranded in between stations in those areas they could not be reached by radio.

The MTA also says this will provide “National Interoperability…similar to the system that helped provide a successful response during Hurricane Sandy…..and will improve safety during emergency operations, natural disasters, enhancing communications for first responders including all levels of government, from localities to federal entities.” As part of this upgrade fifteen new mono-poles will be constructed  “to support the new police radio system in Metro-North’s territory” including one next to the Wassaic train station, inbetween the parking lot and Old Rte. 22, on the site of an old race track that belonged to the Luther family.

Apparently, the MTA did studies, including the possibility of placing the monopole antennae on the stack of the power plant of the Taconic DDSO near the Ten Mile River Station.  They said they could only get a straight line through the mountains and the gorge of the Harlem Valley by placing it near the Wassaic Train Station parking lot.

1150 200 foot high monopole antennae painted the same as the background as it will be visible from Silo Ridge. Graphic by Dave

The town of Amenia is not pleased about the mono-pole because they do not believe they have been given enough time to comment on this project.  Supervisor Victoria Perotti commented saying: “While the Town of Amenia appreciates the MTA Police Department’s efforts to broaden communications capability for emergency response, the Town of Amenia is disappointed with the inadequate public notice and lack of a description about what the described “monopole” would be used for.  The Town of Amenia looks forward to working with the MTA once additional information is received and proper public notice given in order to properly evaluate the impacts of the project.”

The Silo Ridge developers are not happy either.  The people who are most likely to see it the tower are the owners of the Silo Ridge Estate Homes on the steep slopes.  Pedro Torres has asked the towns environmental consultants to weigh in on the subject, since the unsightly tower may affect his sales.

But neither the town nor the developer have any juridiction because it is on Metro-North’s property and the MTA is considered to be an “authority” with “imminent domain” and does not have to follow a state environmental review (SEQR).  Metro-North does have to follow NEPA, which is the Army Corps version of SEQR.   And if there are bog turtles in jeopardy during construction they will have to follow US Fish and Wildlife rules.

And there are documented bog turtles near the area in the wetlands which have fens, raised tussocks that turtles like basking on, which the US Department of Agriculture is urging neighboring landowners to put into conservation.  The project appears to be at least 500 feet away from the buffer of the stream.  

Dave Everett, attorney for the Town of Amenia, said that alternative sites should be identified and that the MTA should redo its defective public notice and give the public and the Town more time to comment. 

The spot where the tower would be place used to be a racing track, and is on a sandy dip in the land, probably the best place for it, according to Conservation Advisory Council Chair, Dave Reagon.  He said that old Delos Luther used to trot horses with surreys there back in the forties and fifties.  He laid out the track and it shows up on the air photo from Google Earth.  

We were able to speak with the MTA’s Communications Deputy Director who had the following comments:

“I wanted to mention that this isn’t really “a Metro-North project,” in as much as it doesn’t involve Metro-North personnel or trains.  It’s a project of the MTA Police Department, which strives to ensure the safety and security of the public and employees using the trains, tracks, stations, roadway crossings, yards and infrastructure of Metro-North Railroad, the Long Island Rail Road, and Staten Island Railway. It’s a 5,000-square-mile territory in 14 counties. The project is being conducted by the MTA Police with support from Metro-North, the LIRR and the MTA.”

We asked whether the public have better cell phone reception?

“Quite possibly. The monopoles would provide a base where cellular providers could position their transponders and related equipment. We are working with the cell phone carriers to let them know of the availability of the monopoles and gauge their interest in participating. Specifically, we are offering the opportunity to the wireless carriers to locate their services on our monopole.  If the carriers opt to partake, their presence would bring not only increased Emergency/911 services, but also improved cell phone reception in general.”

We asked whether the Federal Railroad Administration was requiring stricter police communications for the MTA after the accident at Spuyten Duyvil and in Philadelphia. 

“No, the MTA Police Department identified the need for this project prior to either incident. The motivation for this project comes internally from the MTA Police Department, which is seeking to improve the safety and security of the public by upgrading its police radio system.” 

We also asked if there will be any public meetings about the installation of the pole: 

“We want to be good neighbors, and although no public or community meetings are planned, we have been providing documentation to local officials should any community members have questions.” 

Finally, we asked what they are doing about Silo Ridge’s concerns about the visual impact of the pole. 

“We are prepared to listen to any proposals that Silo Ridge may have.”