The Sandy Hook area has practically zero radio coverage, Loewenheim said.
Washington County Sheriff Douglas Mullendore and Fire and Emergency Services interim director Kevin Lewis emphasized that radio coverage can buy valuable time, and, sometimes, can mean the difference between life and death.
Situations like the hunt in the woods for escaped inmate Brandon Morris or the apprehension of Douglas Pryor, who is charged with murder in the deaths of his former girlfriend and a Smithsburg police officer, could have ended even more tragically if they had taken place in Sandy Hook, where police would not have had the use of portable radios, Mullendore said.
As it is, deputies are unable to radio dispatchers to check the records for drivers during traffic stops and must wait for backup before responding to dangerous situations in that area, Mullendore said.
Loewenheim said the county studied six other sites for the tower, including at least three on National Park Service land and one in Virginia, but all of them had at least one element missing.
"We really tried hard to make them work," he said.
One or two of the sites would interfere with other existing towers in the county, others had no microwave connectivity, one would require the tower to be 800 feet tall to allow a line of sight to another tower, and others were ruled out because they were not owned by the county, he said.
Still, area residents cringed as they studied images showing the tower that would break their scenic skyline.
Luther Mumaw, a 50-year resident of Pleasant Valley, said he would like to see the county explore using a system of repeaters or disguising the tower to look like a tree.
Susan Kyle, who lives across from the proposed site on Keep Tryst Road, said that as a volunteer EMT, she knew the importance of the tower, but she would have liked to ask questions about the alternative sites and how they were ruled out.
"It almost sounds like a done deal," she said.
Loewenheim said no further public hearings are planned, but the county will accept written comments on the proposal.
The next step will be to apply for a license from the Federal Communications Commission to build on the site, Loewenheim said.
The county hopes to begin building within six to eight months, he said.
County officials are accepting comments on the proposal until April 7 at 4 p.m. at the following address:
Division of Public Works
100 W. Washington St.
Hagerstown, MD 21740-4735
All submissions must include name and address.
Comments also may be faxed to 240-313-2251 or sent by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.