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Merits of communication tower plan debated

May 11, 2010|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

PLEASANT VALLEY -- Southern Washington County residents gathered Monday to hear officials make their case for a new communications tower in the Sandy Hook area.

County officials have said a 190-foot tower would fill a wide communication gap that leaves firefighters, emergency medical service workers and police officers vulnerable.

Some residents and environmentalists were skeptical, alleging that the tower would be an eyesore in an area known for beautiful views.

About 75 people attended Monday's public meeting at Pleasant Valley Elementary School. As the meeting neared the end of its second hour, the number of speakers was about evenly split between for and against the tower.

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Eric Whitenton, a member of a group called Citizens for the Preservation of Pleasant Valley, insisted that the county find another alternative.

He said the new tower won't cut down on police response time, an important issue for South County residents.

Russ Plante, a Maryland State Police trooper, said better communication among emergency officials is essential.

"Sandy Hook is a radio dead spot," he said.

The county is considering three spots for a tower as part of a new communications system.

All are close to Brown Road, off Miller Avenue. John and Cora Himes own two parcels. John and Theresa Sutton own the other.

About two years ago, the county decided against using land near the intersection of Keep Tryst and Harpers Ferry roads, where the disturbance to the area would have been greater.

Pete Loewenheim, the manager of the county's Communications Maintenance Department, said the South County tower would be one of 10 in the new network.

Currently, fire, police and EMS crews using handheld radios can't reach colleagues using radios built into emergency vehicles, Loewenheim said.

Ronnie Gray, chief of the Potomac Valley Volunteer Fire Co., spoke of the frustration of seeing a colleague, but not being able to talk to him or her by radio.

Some tower opponents, though, said they weren't convinced that communications problems can't be solved another way, such as through a satellite connection.

Some speakers also challenged the county's pictures of a balloon test simulating the view, which seemed to show the newest choices as unobtrusive.

The county is accepting comments on the tower proposal through May 21.

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