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Safety, landscape issues drive meeting on tower

November 27, 2002|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

BOONSBORO - A public meeting to discuss the installation of a communications tower atop South Mountain drew about 70 people to Greenbrier State Park in Boonsboro on Tuesday night.

About 13 police, emergency services workers and transportation officials from Frederick, Md., to Cumberland, Md., spoke in favor of the state Department of Budget and Management's proposal to install at least one new tower on Lamb's Knoll - the mountain's highest point - to improve public safety transmissions in Western Maryland.

About eight concerned citizens and preservationists spoke against the proposal, which they said would disrupt the historic landscape.

Lamb's Knoll is along the Appalachian Trail between the Fox's Gap and Crampton's Gap battlefields in the South Mountain Recreation Area, which is owned and run by the state Department of Natural Resources.

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The old fire tower now on the site cannot support the additional antennas needed for a communications systems upgrade, said Alan Kealey, administrator of wireless communications for the DNR.

Only a 180-foot tower or three 120-foot towers could support local, state and federal communications equipment, he said.

The success or failure of major emergencies often boils down to the effectiveness of communications systems, said Joe Kroboth, director of emergency services for Washington County.

"I think denying this project would be a denial of public safety service," he said.

But project opponents said topping the mountain with a tall tower would mar the landscapes of Antietam National Battlefield and skylines in other parts of Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia.

"We don't need big, tall towers. There's other ways to do it," said Tom Clemens, president of the Save Historic Antietam Foundation.

Among a list of alternatives, the Harpers Ferry Conservancy has proposed limiting the towers to tree length, disguising antennas to look like trees or putting them on rooftops to preserve the area's scenic view, Executive Director Paul Rosa said.

The Federal Communications Commission this summer issued stop-work orders for the Lamb's Knoll tower and an even taller tower planned for the State Highway Administration site along Interstate 70 and Sharpsburg Pike after Rosa voiced concerns about potential disruptions to historic landscapes and questioned whether the state Department of Budget and Management followed the proper procedures to build the towers.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening then directed state officials to find an alternative that wouldn't jeopardize the area's scenic, cultural and natural resources.

The state Department of Budget and Management and the DNR are working to choose the best option for the Lamb's Knoll site, Kealey said.

Public input will be accepted through Dec. 26. Comments can be mailed to Edward Ryan at the Department of Budget and Management, 301 W. Preston St., Baltimore, MD 21201, e-mailed to ryan@dbm.state.md.us or faxed to 410-333-5163.

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