Meeting set on location of communication tower

May 09, 2010|By HEATHER KEELS
  • This photo from a consultant's Visual Impact Assessment report, taken from the U.S. 340 bridge over the Potomac River, shows balloons raised during a Nov. 20 simulation. The T3 balloon was not in the correct spot during that test, but its position was marked on the photo based on pictures taken during a corrected simulation in March.
Submitted photo,

SANDY HOOK, Md. -- At proposed sites near the base of Maryland Heights, a 190-foot South County emergency communications tower would be visible but unobtrusive from several popular nearby overlooks, according to a consultant's report.

Area residents will have an opportunity to judge that assessment for themselves Monday this evening at a public meeting about the proposed sites scheduled for 7 p.m. at Pleasant Valley Elementary School.

At the meeting, photographs will be displayed showing balloons simulating the height of the tower at three sites under consideration. Washington County officials will make a presentation about the proposed tower, and will accept comments and questions from the public, said Pete Loewenheim, manager of the Washington County Communications Maintenance Department.

The tower is needed to improve radio communications for emergency responders in the southern portion of the county and along the Potomac River recreational corridor, officials have said.

The site of the tower has been a controversial issue for outdoor enthusiasts and some local residents, who protested strongly against the county's first proposed site, saying it would mar the breathtaking views in an area surrounded by the Appalachian Trail, C&O Canal and Harpers Ferry (W.Va.) National Historical Park.


While that original site, near the intersection of Keep Tryst and Sandy Hook roads, would have provided the best communications coverage, the sites now under consideration would be sufficient, Loewenheim said.

The three sites are on privately owned forested land near Miller Avenue, near the base of Maryland Heights:

o T1 -- In the northwest corner of a 4.8-acre residential property at 18024 Miller Ave., owned by John and Theresa Sutton.

o T2 -- In the eastern half of a one-acre, unoccupied property fronting Miller Avenue, owned by John and Cora Himes.

o T3 -- In the northwest corner of a roughly 52-acre property on Miller Avenue also owned by John and Cora Himes.

Of the three sites, county officials prefer site T2, which was marked with a yellow balloon, because it allows the best access, Loewenheim said.

Site T1 had the most visual impact from some views, while T2 and T3 were similar from most views, according to a Visual Impact Assessment prepared for the county by consultant L. Robert Kimball & Associates.

T2 provides slightly better coverage than T3, Loewenheim said.

Members of Citizens for the Preservation of Pleasant Valley have uploaded the consultant's report and their own photos to their website at

The visual-impact report says that while the tower would be "a point of notice along the skyline" in the view from rock outcrops at the north end of Loudoun Heights and the bluff above the south shore of the Potomac River, it "will not pose a dominant feature within the overall view shed from Loudoun Heights and nearby bluffs."

From Weverton Cliffs, a rock outcrop on South Mountain, and Buzzard Rock, a rock outcrop across the river on Short Hill Mountain, the tower would be visible against a backdrop of vegetation, where brown or gray color schemes could soften the contrast against the mountain slope, the report says.

The tower's tripod frame structure and lattice supports could be painted, but the microwave antenna dishes could not, Loewenheim said.

From view points at the top of Maryland Heights, the tower might be glimpsed through bare trees by someone searching for it, but would be hidden when leaves are on the trees, the report says.

While the consultant focused on the tower's impact on parks, CPPV members evaluated what impact the tower would have on views from roads and homes in the area. The towers would be visible along Md. 67, outside Cindy Dee's restaurant, and from many homes along Weverton Road and Miller Avenue, among other spots, according to the CPPV website.

The CPPV website and a CPPV survey mention Short Hill, across the Potomac River, as an alternative location for the tower, but Loewenheim said that site would not work because of "destructive interference" with the rest of the system.

In addition to comments at the meeting, the county will accept written comments up to 10 days after the meeting at Washington County Division of Public Works, 100 W. Washington St., Room 238, Hagerstown, MD 21740.

If you go...

What: Public meeting on proposed South County emergency communications tower

When: Today at 7 p.m.

Where: Pleasant Valley Elementary School on Md. 67

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