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Borough of Chambersburg, station at odds over towers, land

February 25, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Chambersburg may seek to acquire by eminent domain the site of four AM transmission towers in an effort to restart a water tower project stalled 17 months ago by a re-radiation problem.

The Chambersburg Borough Council Monday night voted unanimously to ask the municipal authority to take action to acquire the 8.2-acre tract on the borough's south end belonging to VerStandig Broadcasting Inc. The towers are used by WCBG 1590.

"Should the borough proceed with eminent domain, we will respond appropriately," station owner John VerStandig said Tuesday.

Construction of the 2.1 million gallon water storage tower was halted in October 2002 after workers began experiencing shocks and burns from radio frequency waves absorbed by the tower and then re-radiated. The 153-foot tower is within 200 feet of one of the transmission towers.

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The borough spent almost $20,000 on "special grounding measures" that proved ineffective prior to the contractor pulling the work crew because of safety concerns, the resolution said.

Borough Manager Eric Oyer said the tower is primarily for water storage in case of an interruption of water service, as well as to provide greater water pressure in that part of the borough.

"We hope to continue construction in the fall of this year" if the borough is successful in acquiring the land, Oyer said.

The resolution states that the borough held a publicly advertised environmental assessment hearing prior to construction and neither VerStandig or any other party raised objections to the project. The resolution stated that engineers employed by the borough, as well as the contractor, "were not aware of the adverse impact the AM radio transmission would have on the construction of the water tower."

"At no time did the borough contact us directly with regard to their building the water tower," said VerStandig. "One would hope they'd call their neighbors."

"The reality is that the borough, through grotesque negligence, has left itself in an untenable position" and does not want to pay him the full value for the land, improvements and cost to relocate, VerStandig said. He said the borough is "attempting to find a legal loophole which will save them from the embarrassment" and costs of its actions.

VerStandig said he has owned the radio tower site for about 10 years, but it has been used for that purpose for about 50 years.

When the re-radiation problem arose, VerStandig was asked to reduce power or turn off the towers during the day and was offered an alternative transmission site on borough land while the water tower was under construction. The Federal Communications Commission did not act on a borough request to require VerStandig to take steps not to interfere with construction, according to the resolution.

"All we needed to do was finish construction. That's all we were looking for and that's a reasonable approach," Councilman John Redding said Tuesday.

The borough made an informal proposal to relocate the water tower at VerStandig's expense, estimated at $600,000, according to the resolution.

Under eminent domain, the borough would have the radio tower site appraised and offer VerStandig fair market value for the land, but limits on relocation and loss of profits are capped at $30,000, the resolution stated. VerStandig can appeal to a board of view or eventually take the matter before a jury if he is dissatisfied with the fair market offer.

VerStandig's company owns several area radio stations, including WAYZ, WHGT, WWMD and WSRT.

The resolution set out three public purposes for acquisition of the land. In addition to allowing completion, operation and maintenance of the tower, the land could be used by the borough as a recreation area for the public and employees in the industrial park where it is located. It could also be used for storing borough equipment.

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