FCC stays out of phone tower fight

December 25, 1997


Staff Writer, Martinsburg

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. - The Federal Communications Commission says it is not at the stage yet where it can enter into the fight over a proposed 260-foot wireless communications tower near historic Harpers Ferry.

On Dec. 19, the National Park Service sent a letter to the FCC asking for an emergency halt to construction of the tower, but FCC spokeswoman Rosemary Kimball said the request was premature.

According to Kimball, U.S. Cellular has an FCC license to provide wireless telecommunications service to the area, but not to construct the tower itself.


"It's sort of a tempest in a teapot. It would have been an issue if they had started clearing land without the proper certifications," Kimball said Wednesday.

The park service said in its letter to the FCC's Bureau of Wireless Telecommunications that U.S. Cellular had not met National Environmental Protection Act and National Historic Preservation Act requirements to begin construction of the tower. The letter from National Capital Region Director Terry R. Carlstrom also stated there was site work under way.

Kimball said the only work done by U.S. Cellular so far was the posting of no trespassing signs.

"When they come back to us with those certifications ... they can go ahead," she said.

U.S. Cellular's plan for the land was approved by the Jefferson County Planning Commission on Dec. 11, provoking a protest from groups and individuals worried that the lattice tower would adversely impact the community.

The park service letter said the tower could adversely affect the nearby Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, the C&O Canal National Historical Park, a Civil War battlefield and several scenic overlooks in West Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia.

Kimball said every tower site requires NEPA and NHPA clearances and U.S. Cellular is "in the process of getting all the clearances."

Because of the tower's location, Kimball said approvals may be needed from the historic preservation offices in all three states.

On Monday, U.S. Cellular project manager Markham L. Gartley said the company has no plans to proceed with construction until an appeal of the Jefferson County Planning Commission's Dec. 11 approval of the site plan is cleared.

The appeal was filed Dec. 19 by William Gavin, who owns the nearby Cliffside Inn and Conference Center. A hearing before the Jefferson County Board of Zoning Appeals is not expected before Feb. 19.

On Monday, Scot Faulkner, president of the Friends of the Harpers Ferry Historical Park, said opponents of the tower plan to file a petition in Jefferson County Circuit Court to stop the tower from being built.

Gartley said Monday he contacted the park service about setting up a meeting to hash out a compromise.

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