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Verizon withdraws request for cell tower near Jackson shrine

Posted on Friday, April 12, 2013 at 4:33 pm

Verizon Wireless has withdrawn an application with Caroline County that sought a permit to erect a cellular telephone tower at a site near off Guinea Road in Woodford near the National Park Service’s Stonewall Jackson Shrine.

County planning officials were informed of the company’s decision in a letter from Charles Rothenberg, a Richmond attorney representing Verizon, in a letter dated March 25. His letter did not indicate why the company was withdrawing its application, which had already been endorsed by the county’s Planning Commission.

“Upon review of all of the due diligence for this site, it’s been determined that Verizon Wireless will not move forward,” Melanie Ortel, a spokesman for the company, said via e-mail to The Caroline Progress on Friday.

The Planning Commission voted 6-0 in February to recommend approval of the request, and it was sent to the Board of Supervisors for final action.

Rothenberg had told the Planning Commission there would be “virtually no impact” to the Stonewall Jackson Shrine, the site where Confederate Lt. Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson died. Verizon was “sensitive” to the effects of the tower, he told the panel, but he added that there were “no alternatives.”

In briefing the commission on the request, county planner Angeline Pitts said Verizon officials considered the site an “ideal location” and that the tower was needed to meet increasing demand for service.

However, even though Verizon had conducted tests at the proposed site to gauge the potential visual impact of the tower and had conducted part of the test on the shrine property, they had not notified the National Park Service (NPS) of the proposed cell tower.

After being informed of the Planning Commission’s action by The Caroline Progress, NPS officials expressed concern about the proposed tower although they did outright oppose it.

“The site of the proposed tower is about 3,000 feet from the park boundary, and the potential for impact on National Park Service resources (which are all listed on the National Register) seems significant,” John Hennessy, chief historian for Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park, wrote to Caroline planning director Mike Finchum in a March 5 letter.

“Based on the materials we have seen, we cannot begin to judge the potential effect of the proposed tower on historic resources at or near the Jackson Shrine,” continued Hennessy. “The photo-simulations included in the packet view the site from the north and northeast, but not from the southeast – the area of the Jackson Shrine.”

Hennessy requested that Verizon conduct another so-called balloon test that could be assessed from different locations on National Park Service lands at the shrine. (The test consists of raising a balloon to the height of the proposed tower to determine how visible it would be from various surrounding vantage points.) He also asked for the test to be set when National Park Service management staff could be available to witness it.

If the cell phone tower project had gone forward, Verizon eventually would have had to obtain a permit from the Federal Communications Commission, as noted in Hennessy’s letter. As such, the permit application would have been subject to review under a section of the National Historic Preservation Act in order to identify historic sites that may have been impacted and to avoid or mitigate impacts.

Verizon apparently arranged for a second balloon test – without notifying NPS officials again – but did not provide the results of the second test to federal officials, according to Russ Smith, superintendent of the park.

Ortel was asked why Verizon did not notify the NPS of its plans, arranged for the balloon test on NPS property without involving NPS personnel, did not provide copies of the two balloon tests to NPS officials, and did not include photos from the shrine property in its application.

In response, she said that, had the process moved forward, the company would have provided information about the proposed cell phone tower to the State Historic Trust Officer and all other parties, such as the NPS.

“The results of the test showed that the site was not visible from the shrine,” added Ortel.

The permit for the 199-foot tower was being sought for a site of slightly less than 1 acre near 8308 Guinea Station Road. It is a vacant wooded lot and pasture with the exception of some out buildings.          The property, owned by Christopher and Lynda Benden, who live nearby on Guinea Station Road, is zoned rural preservation.

The shrine is access via nearby Stonewall Jackson Road.

Jackson, wounded by ‘friendly fire’ from Confederate troops during the Battle of Chancellorsville in Spotsylvania County in 1863, was transported to a plantation in Guinea Station, and his left arm was amputated. He died of pneumonia eight days later.