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Tower creates high resentment


Has an effort to improve public safety compromised one of the most beautiful vistas in Harford County?

For Deborah Bowers, whose family farm overlooks the scenic Rocks Ridge in Rocks State Park, the answer is "yes."

But for state officials, the public safety issue seemed more compelling than a good view.

Two weeks ago, Bowers looked out her kitchen window of her home near the state park and was aghast at the sight. A 100-foot-high radio communications tower -- erected during several days of heavy fog -- nosed its way above the tree tops on the ridge, which faces her home.

"I'm really kind of perturbed," said Bowers. "The natural beauty of one of the county's most noted physical features has been compromised by the very agency charged with protecting it."

The ridge, about a mile long, has a thick covering of trees. About a half-dozen or so farms, including the Bowers property, dot the countryside nearby. Until now, there has been no man-made structure on the ridge that could be seen above the tree tops.

The tower was, in fact, built two weeks ago by the FBI with the state's permission, said Rosemary Vicini, an FBI spokeswoman in Baltimore.

Robert Gould, a spokesman for DNR, said the FBI proposed building the tower on state park land about three years ago.

"This is nothing unusual. It's not like this is a new tower," said Gould. "There's been a 40-foot-high tower on the ridge for years that DNR has used for park service communications. That tower will now be torn down."

Gould said DNR performed an environmental impact study on the proposed 100-foot-high tower. Then, after receiving comments from several state agencies and the Regional Planning Council, DNR recommended approval of the project. The state Board of Public Works approved the project Oct. 9, 1991, Gould said.

While state agencies were kept abreast of the proposal, area residents were not.

"There were no public meetings," Gould said. "There are five other communications towers around the state. This is the way all the other towers have been handled. The primary goal is to improve communications for public safety. We tried to keep [the tower] as unobtrusive as possible."

Routine or not, Bowers believes citizens should have had the right to comment.

"I'm only one person, but people should have the right to object before something is built," she said.

David Cooper, manager of Rocks State Park, said he conducted two public meetings to get residents' views on the management of Rocks and Susquehanna state parks, but did not mention the plans for construction of a tower on Rocks Ridge.

"I didn't think it was an issue," said Cooper.

Cooper said he did suggest the FBI keep the tower under 200 feet so it would not be required to have a red strobe beacon for aerial safety.

"I also suggested the tower be of a design that did not require guy wires," said Cooper. He said the tower cannot be seen from inside the park.

Cooper also said improved radio communications are needed in Harford.

"There's nothing more frustrating than to have someone in cardiac arrest and not be able to get help on the radio. I can give CPR, but you still need to get an ambulance," said Cooper. "We've got to have better radio communications for your protection."

Bowers agrees the public safety concern is important, but said "the location of the tower was not given enough consideration."

jTC "I don't think park management and DNR really considered the visual effects on a natural area. There was nothing man-made that could be seen the entire length of the ridge."

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