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Groups spar over cell tower

August 01, 2002|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

An order by the Federal Communications Commission to put on hold a 180-foot public safety communications tower proposed for one of the highest points of South Mountain has a state official and a conservation group sparring over the necessity of the structure.

The FCC told the Maryland Department of Budget and Management in a letter dated July 22 that it cannot start building the tower until the FCC is satisfied the tower is in compliance with the commission's environmental standards.

The three-legged tower is proposed for the Lamb's Knoll section of South Mountain between Crampton's Gap and Fox's Gap. Preservationists say erecting a tower on that site will ruin the landscape of Antietam Battlefield, the South Mountain Battlefield, the Appalachian Trail and other historic districts.

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The order from the FCC was in response to a July 16 letter from the Harpers Ferry Conservancy that asked the FCC to conduct an environmental assessment to determine whether the tower would adversely affect the land.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources owns the land on which the tower would be erected. The tower would serve several agencies, including the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems, the National Park Service and 911 communications for Washington and Frederick counties.

Thomas H. Miller, director of communications for the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services, said Wednesday the tower is needed to improve public safety communications for the South Mountain area.

He said it would replace a 90-foot fire tower that is more than 65 years old and in poor shape.

Miller said the proposed 180-foot tower could reach as high as 195 feet if a 15-foot antenna were placed at the top. He said the high point of South Mountain was selected to reduce the need for such structures.

"The higher the location you put the tower, the fewer towers you need," he said.

Miller said he thinks the Harpers Ferry Conservancy doesn't make a strong point in opposing the tower because there are four other towers at the site.

"This is 2002. When you have a radio system, you have to have a tower to make them work well," he said. "You've got to have a radio system to support public safety."

Paul Rosa, executive director of the Harpers Ferry Conservancy, said the state has not been forthcoming with the specifics of the tower and has done a poor job of making the public aware of the proposal.

"The best way for the public to be able to evaluate his claims is to provide the public with the information," Rosa said.

He said the group is trying to make sure the state follows the regulations in the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act.

Rosa, who is a member of a volunteer fire company and on the board of a Jefferson County ambulance company, said he thinks there are ways to erect a communications tower while preserving natural surroundings.

He said the state could put the tower at a lower location or construct one that looks like a tree.

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