Sides at odds over height of communication towers

October 23, 2002|by TARA REILLY

A conservancy group's efforts to stop two public safety communications towers from being erected in Washington County would hamper communications for police, fire, rescue and government agencies in all of Western Maryland, state and county officials said at Tuesday's Washington County Commissioners meeting.

Without the towers in Washington County, which are proposed by the Maryland Department of Budget and Management, there would be no communications link through Washington, Allegany and Garrett counties to the rest of the state, officials said.

The state Department of Budget and Management is trying to link all parts of the state to a microwave communications system, which would allow for better public safety transmissions, said G. Edward Ryan II, assistant director of the department's telecommunications division.


"These towers are an integral part of the Western Maryland microwave system," Ryan said.

One 330-foot tower is proposed for the State Highway Administration site along Interstate 70 and Sharpsburg Pike, and the other is a 180-foot tower proposed for the top of Lamb's Knoll on South Mountain.

The Harpers Ferry Conservancy has claimed to the Federal Communications Commission that the towers would disrupt the area's historic landscape and questioned whether the state agency followed the proper procedures to build the towers.

As a result, the FCC issued stop-work orders on the towers until further notice.

Conservancy Executive Director Paul Rosa said his organization has proposed alternatives that would maintain the area's scenic view, such as keeping the towers to tree length, disguising antennas to look like trees or putting them on rooftops.

He also said that the state can install microwave connections in tower equipment buildings in Western Maryland to establish the link with the rest of the state, while towers and antenna heights are part of ongoing discussions.

"The only way Western Maryland gets cut off is if the microwave link is not established, and we got a way for (Ryan) to do that here," Rosa said.

Ryan and Pete Loewenheim, the county's communications maintenance manager, said the state's plans and proposed tower heights are necessary for optimum transmissions.

"The higher you are, the higher you can transmit," Ryan said.

Rosa said a 126-foot tower that was proposed for Harpers Ferry was cut down to 26 feet "and it's been working fine for 10 years."

"So where there's a will, there's a way," Rosa said.

He also claimed Ryan exaggerates the importance of the height of the towers.

"The long and short of it is this is a turf issue, and Mr. Ryan is adverse to anything but his tall tower," Rosa said. "Mr. Ryan vastly overstates his case."

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