W.Va. cellular tower accord may be in sight

January 08, 1998

W.Va. cellular tower accord may be in sight


Staff Writer, Charles Town

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. - U.S. Cellular officials met amicably Wednesday with opponents of their plan to build a 260-foot-high communication tower in the middle of a Civil War battlefield just outside Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

U.S. Cellular and park officials said they agreed to examine possible alternative sites to determine whether they would enable the company to provide cellular phone service while not marring the Blue Ridge Mountain scenery.

"It was a very positive and productive meeting. We discussed a whole range of issues," said Scot Faulkner, president of the Friends of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park and one of the leading critics of the proposed tower.


"Everybody's encouraged even though we don't have any concrete proposals," said Markham L. Gartley, U.S. Cellular project manager.

The meeting between U.S. Cellular, the National Park Service and the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites was closed to the public.

U.S. Cellular is expected to bring in a 260-foot crane today and float helium balloons to see if the proposed tower would be as visible from Harpers Ferry as opponents fear, Faulkner said.

U.S. Cellular also will conduct studies with electronic equipment to see whether they can transmit properly from the alternative locations, Gartley said.

"We're committed to do anything reasonable to accommodate the community," Gartley said.

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park Superintendent Don Campbell said he thought both sides were on the right track for working out a solution.

"The focus was cooperation, working together to come up with an option that would resolve the concerns of the community," Campbell said.

The Federal Communications Commission wrote in a Dec. 23 reply to a Dec. 19 letter from the National Park Service that U.S. Cellular would have to meet the requirements of a federal law protecting historical areas.

On Dec. 9, the Jefferson County Planning Commission approved a tower site off U.S. 340 outside Bolivar, W.Va., and in the middle of a battlefield.

The tower's proposed location is in the area where Confederate Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson forced the surrender of the federal garrison at Harpers Ferry during a siege from Sept. 12-15, 1862. The battle led to the surrender of 12,500 Union soldiers.

The Planning Commission decision was made while the head of the planning department worked on a draft of an ordinance governing communication towers. The planning director is expected to have a final draft of the ordinance by Jan. 13.

The Planning Commission's approval of the site is under appeal by William Gavin, owner of the neighboring Cliffside Inn and Conference Center, where Wednesday's meeting was held.

A hearing before the Jefferson County Board of Zoning Appeals is not expected before Feb. 19.

Faulkner said much of the discussion focused on technical aspects of where the company has to locate the tower to get the proper signal coverage for cellular phone users.

Faulkner said opponents avoided bringing up their past criticism of the site, focusing instead on how to improve the situation. He said he believes a location that would suit both sides is the water tower on top of the hill above Bolivar.

Because of the hill's elevation, the tower could be only about 75 feet high, about the same height as the trees, and still transmit a signal. The same site was chosen as the best alternative years ago for a controversial television cable tower.

At that site, a tower would not be noticeable to most of the community and a blinking aircraft warning beacon would not be required, Faulkner said.

Other options discussed included:

-- Putting the tower in a sign at the Cliffside Inn, which is higher on the Schoolhouse Ridge slope than U.S. Cellular's current site. If built on the higher ground, the tower would be low enough that it would not need aircraft warning lights. But Faulkner said it could disrupt the view of the historic area.

-- Placing the tower at the present site, but for it to be constructed in such a way that it would not need blinking lights.

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