Living with Verizon facility noise

Richard Tedesco

The loud, grinding noise and acrid smoke produced by three generators atop the Verizon cell switch facility in Garden City, disrupted the lives of Mineola on 13th Street residents for nearly a year until, tired of trying to fight City Hall, the cell phone company and insomnia, the residents finally took the telecommunications giant and one of the municipalities to court.

The suit against Verizon on behalf of those residents by attorney Joseph Sullivan seeks punitive damages and includes a motion to stop Verizon from operating what is a vital facility for its regional cell phone service. The situation reached a tipping point when Verizon ran the generators for five straight days, starting the Thursday before Memorial Day. A notice of claim against Garden City preceded it.

“I feel like a prisoner in my own home. Now I’m retired, I want to enjoy my home and I can’t,” said Rui Salsinha, a nine-year resident of the block and the only one who pays property taxes to Garden City.

Fed up by the five days of constant din, Salsinha abandoned his bedroom in the rear of his house that faced the Verizon facility and now sleeps in a front bedroom formerly used by his son, who has made their basement his bedroom. And Salsinha said he still heard the noise “and sometimes, there’s a funny smell,” a smell the former commercial fisherman associates with diesel fuel, presumably from the generators.

That’s why his two adult daughters are afraid to bring his grandchildren to play in the backyard.

Readings taken by an audio engineer retained by residents during the recent five-day audio siege revealed that noise from the generators exceeded 85 decibels, well above levels permitted under the code of Garden City, a village known for strict enforcement of its statutes.

Two houses down the same side of 13th Street, Linda Navarro recounted how her 12-year-old daughter, Juliette, also had to relocate her bedroom from the back of the house to the second floor, and still suffers with erratic sleeping patterns, managing to get only four or five hours of sleep nightly.

“She wakes up two or three o’clock in the morning and sleeps downstairs or in the basement,” Navarro said.

The real concern is the frequent headaches Juliette has been experiencing, accompanied by numbness her face, Navarro said. After submitting her to an EEG test, a neurologist diagnosed her problem as migraine headaches caused by stress and lack of sleep.

“Every night, I take pills because I can’t sleep. It makes me tired at school,” said the youngster, who also was slated to undergo an MRI exam.

As her symptoms persist, Juliette’s grades in school have slipped.

“It’s like a monster in the backyard. It’s very rude what they did to us,” her mother said.

And Linda Navarro recalled the recent death of her 91-year-old neighbor, Maggie Kittle, who was in failing health and said to her one day, “In my last days, I can’t even sleep anymore.”

A 40-year resident of the block across the street, David Campbell wondered aloud whether Verizon had secured permits for the generators and air conditioning units it retrofitted onto the facility.

“When it’s running, I close up everything and go in the back room with the TV,” he said.

Late on Friday evening, the end of the second day of the five-day noise barrage, Susan Coyne, the Navarro’s neighbor, finally called the Garden City police and the Nassau County police. She and her husband, who is suffering from mesothelioma, had reached a breaking point.

“We couldn’t stay in the bedroom. It was bad,” she recalled.

What ensued added insult to the injury the residents felt they’d been suffering.

The Nassau County Police officers who responded said they would file a report, and furnished a copy to the residents – but said the source of the problem was in Garden City’s jurisdiction.

Facing a distraught crowd of 13th Street residents gathered on the sidewalk outside the facility, a Garden City Police officer reportedly said, “I know everything about what’s going on. If you want something done about this, you have to call your mayor, Jack Martins.”

At that point John Fereira, who has been among the most vocal residents on the issue at Mineola board meetings, said he replied: “Why don’t you call the mayor of Garden City?”

Fereira said the police officer got out of his car and threatened to arrest Fereira if he didn’t move from the apron of the driveway leading into the parking lot of the Verizon facility.

“This place has got to go. We have to close it down,” Fereira said he recalled thinking. The lawsuit against Verizon and the motion to shut down the switch facility followed.

But the facility is much too important for Verizon to risk shutting it down.

Verizon Wireless spokesman David Samberg describes it as a “very important location for the operation of the [wireless] network,” serving a “significant geographic area” on Long Island.

The air conditioners were added to keep additional equipment in the facility cool as Verizon’s customer base expanded and the generators were added to make sure everything kept running.

“It’s the redundancy. So sometimes these facilities are so important, this back-up system has a back-up system. You have to keep that building cool, and the equipment itself generates heat,” Samberg said

Recounted the litany of complaints about the facility, he said Verizon is still seeking a solution as it faces a court fight.

“The first complaints were about the look of the construction. Then the construction was too loud. Then the complaints were it was too loud because of the generators we were testing.” Samberg said.

“We‘ve been testing and trying to find ways to muffle the sound. We were working on this before and we’re continuing to work on it now.”



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