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FCC says Md. must study effects of tower

May 16, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

BURKITTSVILLE, Md. -Maryland must assess the environmental effects of a proposed communications tower atop South Mountain before the Federal Communications Commission will allow it to be built.

"The Lamb's Knoll area is rich with historic sites," Jeffrey S. Steinberg, deputy chief of the FCC's commercial wireless division, wrote in a May 6 letter to the Maryland Department of Budget and Management.

The Maryland Historical Trust determined that building the 180-foot tower at the highest point on the mountain would have no negative effect on the historic sites.

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But Steinberg said the information his agency received from Paul Rosa, executive director of the Harpers Ferry (W.Va.) Conservancy, caused the agency to question the ruling.

Rosa, whose group has been fighting the tower for more than a year because of fears it will mar the historic landscape, called the letter a "significant" development.

The Maryland Department of Budget and Management, which maintains the tower is needed for public safety communications, did not expect the FCC's letter.

"We were a little surprised by that," said department spokesman Ellis Kitchen.

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.

There is a fire tower on the site now, but it cannot support the local, state and federal communications equipment needed, officials have said.

Meanwhile, the state has started construction on a second controversial tower near the intersection of Interestate 70 and Md. 65. Rosa's group dropped its opposition to that tower in December to concentrate its efforts on blocking the Lamb's Knoll tower.

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