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FCC: Plan for tower is on hold

The order delaying construction of a 330-foot communications tower along Interstate 70 may disrupt a chain of more than 200 towe

The order delaying construction of a 330-foot communications tower along Interstate 70 may disrupt a chain of more than 200 towe

September 04, 2002|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

The Federal Communications Commission has put on hold a 330-foot communications tower along Interstate 70, possibly disrupting a chain of more than 200 towers the state plans to construct throughout Maryland to improve public safety communications, a state official said Tuesday.

The FCC on Aug. 28 issued a stop-work order on the tower planned at the State Highway Administration site along I-70 and Sharpsburg Pike. The tower would replace two others at the site.

The FCC stated in the decision that the state must prove within 30 days that the tower complies with all of the FCC's environmental rules, including documentation of any environmental impact the tower might have on its surroundings.

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The Maryland Department of Budget and Management plans to erect between 200 and 220 public safety towers statewide, Thomas H. Miller, director of communications for the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems, said Tuesday.

Some of the towers would be new and others would replace older towers, Miller said.

Ed Ryan, the Department of Budget and Management's assistant director of telecommunications, has said the towers would improve public safety communications by allowing the state to upgrade to higher frequencies.

Agencies that would use the Hagerstown tower include the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems, Maryland State Police, Department of Natural Resources, Maryland Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Public Safety and Corrections.

"Quite frankly, I'm a little disappointed," Miller said of the FCC's ruling. "We're trying to help people, and we're getting this much flak about a tower.

"If we keep running into this stuff, we'll never get it done."

The stop-work order is the second in Washington County that the FCC has issued against the state's effort to build the towers.

The first ruling came in July, after the Harpers Ferry Conservancy lodged a complaint with the FCC that a 180-foot tower planned for the Lamb's Knoll section of South Mountain would disrupt the area's historic landscape.

The Harpers Ferry Conservancy also asked for the stop-work order on the Hagerstown tower.

Paul Rosa, executive director of the conservancy, said the public hasn't been told that the towers are going up.

"The only notice people get is when they wake up in the morning and the tower is there," Rosa said.

He said there are alternatives to building standard towers.

For example, he said, the state should consider constructing towers that look like trees or putting microwave dishes on rooftops of buildings.

He said that instead of building towers, the state could use fiber optic cable that already runs along I-70 for public safety communications.

"They're just throwing them up everywhere," Rosa said. "They're just rolling over the state and potentially destroying landscapes everywhere."

Rosa said he thinks the state wants to construct the towers so it can make money by renting space on the towers to cellular telephone companies. He said plans for the towers include space for several commercial companies.

"Paul Rosa doesn't know a thing about communications," Miller said. "He has no background whatsoever in public safety communications. He can say anything he wants, but it doesn't make it true ... We are the experts."

Miller said the state is receiving the most resistance to the towers in Washington County.

"We've had problems in other locations, but not as bad as this," Miller said.

He said Ellicott City, Md., residents opposed a planned tower there, but that the FCC issued a 12-page ruling in support of the tower.

"We're hoping that they see this as the same situation," Miller said. "We're hoping, but there's no guarantee, though."

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