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Agreement reached on cell tower site

April 02, 1998|By CLYDE FORD

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. - U.S. Cellular agreed Thursday to place a communications tower on Bolivar Heights next to Harpers Ferry's water tank instead of in the middle of a Civil War battlefield.

Details were still being worked out, but officials said the agreement should end the cellular phone tower dispute.

"We have come to a workable solution and now we have to work out the final paperwork," said U.S. Cellular Project Manager Markham Gartley.

By placing the tower on higher ground, the company will be able to get a better signal with a lower tower than the 260-foot-high structure originally planned, Gartley said.

"We're looking forward to getting this completed so we can extend our cellular network," Gartley said. "We regret we caused so much controversy."

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On Dec. 9, U.S. Cellular obtained approval from the Jefferson County Planning Commission to build a 260-foot-high cellular phone tower off U.S. 340 next to the Cliffside Inn and near Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

A hearing scheduled for today before the Jefferson County Board of Zoning Appeals about the commission's decision has been postponed, said Matt Ward, the attorney representing William Gavin, owner of the Cliffside Inn, who filed the appeal.

The appeal of the decision will no longer be an issue because under the agreement, U.S. Cellular will abandon plans to build the tower next to the Cliffside Inn, Ward said.

The land was once the site of a Civil War battle and the planned tower sparked a fight between the cellular phone company and Civil War history buffs, historical preservationists and those interested in preserving the scenic landscape near the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah River.

A test tower was put up Tuesday at the water tower site to see if it would pick up cellular signals.

On Wednesday, officials from U.S. Cellular, Harpers Ferry and the national park met to discuss the signal study. The signal was strong with a 65-foot-high test tower, Gartley said.

The agreement is contingent on U.S. Cellular and the town reaching a lease agreement. A meeting is scheduled for Monday to work out the contract.

In addition, the cellular phone tower still would have to go through state and federal historical and environmental reviews, but Harpers Ferry National Park Service Superintendent Don Campbell said the agreement to use the water tank site will speed up the process.

Campbell said a 65-foot-high monopole tower at the water tank site would meet the needs of the cellular phone company, the park and the community.

Campbell said the tower would be behind a canopy of trees, "so the impact on the historical scene is far less. That's the best of both worlds."

"United States Cellular is optimistic and delighted about the potential for completing an agreement for the water tank site, under the plan that we discussed on April 1, 1998," David E. Klumb, director of network operations, wrote Thursday to Campbell and Harpers Ferry Mayor Walton Stowell.

"United States Cellular believes that participation of the citizens of Jefferson County in this agreement has produced a potential win-win resolution that will meet the needs of our company while supporting the values of your community," Klumb wrote.

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