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Schedule new hearing on south county tower

April 08, 2008

In The Herald-Mail's Saturday story about a controversial proposed radio tower in southern Washington County, Commissioners President John Barr said that in the 2 1/2 years of project research, "There's been ongoing opportunities for public participation."

Yes, but for those who remember the outcry over rural rezoning - or local refugee resettlement, for that matter - know that many citizens tend not to pay close attention until something major happens.

In this case, it was the announcement that a 190-foot communications tower was planned for the intersection of Sandy Hook and Keep Tryst roads.

A hearing on the tower was held on March 26, but was not a public hearing, but an "informational" session.

Translation: No questions were solicited from those who attended and if you wanted to make a comment, you had to put it in writing and submit it by 4 p.m. yesterday.

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This is unacceptable and the ruckus that neighbors of the tower site are raising is completely justified.

This is a taxpayer-funded project that some people feel will affect their quality of life and their property values.

They deserve an invitation to ask questions and to hear county officials explain why alternatives, such as the one proposed by the National Park Service, won't work.

It is time to schedule another hearing, with time for questions, answers and explanations.

Even the critics aren't disputing the need for a new system to replace the present one that is more than 30 years old.

After an April 2002 disaster drill at Hagerstown Regional Airport, officials said that due to an insufficient number of frequencies, fire and rescue workers were interfering with each other's transmissions.

But this isn't the first time the project has generated controversy. In February 2006. Commissioner William Wivell complained about the bid process.

At the time, the county was withholding a consultant report on the new system and the names of companies submitting proposals.

We understand that, like certain engineering projects, the expertise of the contractor is just as important as the bid price. This wasn't a proposal to buy a couple of new dump trucks, but a system that could spell the difference between life and death.

We also understand the need not to drag this project out unnecessarily. When then-Sheriff Charles Mades made a pitch for it in 2002, the estimated cost was $10 million.

A year later, the projected cost had jumped up to $12 million to $18 million. Now it will cost $15 million or more.

That's a lot of money, especially when the economy is slowing down and the prices of key commodities - gasoline, heating oil and groceries are increasing.

In this case, "trust us" isn't enough. When the commissioners meet this morning, they should schedule another hearing immediately.

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