FCC gives Howard approval for Ellicott City radio tower

September 28, 2001|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

Ending a seven-month wait, the Federal Communications Commission decided yesterday to allow a 340-foot-high emergency radio tower just outside historic Ellicott City -- an announcement that relieved Howard County officials and dismayed neighbors.

The tower -- a key part of an upgrade to the county's public safety communications system -- attracted controversy as soon as local officials announced the site, which is next to Howard District Court and overlooks the quaint 19th-century mill town. The state intends to build the tower and share it with the county.

For more than a year, residents and preservationists have urged project managers to use county-owned land less than a mile away, the site originally slated for the tower. But officials insisted the District Court parcel was superior.

The FCC agreed -- and in its 12-page "memorandum opinion and order," it refused to accept residents' contention that the tall structure would harm the historic district.

"The Division finds the proposed antenna structure will have no significant impact on the Ellicott City community," stated the document, signed by Jeffrey S. Steinberg, deputy chief of the FCC's Commercial Wireless Division.

Residents were shocked at the finding.

"I absolutely do not know how they, in good conscience, can say that," said Sally Bright, a historic district activist.

Alan Ferragamo, deputy director of the county Department of Public Works, said he was excited and relieved by the decision, which allows the state to restart the project. Officials began preparing the land in January but were stopped by the FCC in February.

The Ellicott City tower must be functioning well by February 2003 or the county risks losing 10 of its broadcast licenses, Ferragamo said. To meet the deadline, he said, the state needs to build the tower before icy weather sets in.

State officials hope to start construction next week and finish by early November. "We're hopeful ... November's cooperative and they'll be able to climb the tower and put the equipment up there," Ferragamo said.

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