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Telecommunication lines proposed for George Washington and Jefferson National Forests

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Flags fly at the Jefferson and George Washington National Forests headquarters in Roanoke.

The public is being invited to comment on a proposal that would allow fiber-optic telecommunication lines across the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests.

For the most part, the buried lines would follow existing roads and utility right-of-ways. “No above ground infrastructure on NFS lands is proposed; therefore, no visual scenic quality impacts are expected,” a Jan. 20 public notice states.

In recent years, the U.S. Forest Service has received requests from multiple companies to install the lines in order to provide broadband service to rural customers.

“The Forest Service manages land to accommodate multiple uses, including supporting the installation of broadband in rural communities,” forest supervisor Joby Timm said in a news release Friday.

“Because the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests run the length of Virginia from north to south, long, linear utilities inevitably require access across National Forest System lands.”

After an environmental assessment, the project would establish specific criteria to be used in granting special use permits on an individual basis.

Under the proposal, trenches about one foot wide and at least 30 inches deep would be dug for the lines. Tree clearing would be limited to incidental brush and hazardous tree removal.

Horizontal directional drilling would be used to cross sensitive areas such as streams, wetlands and trails. The drilling would be done with small machines that do not require bore pads or staging areas.

Fiber-optic lines “would mainly co-locate” with existing utility lines or transportation right of ways, according to the notice.

The lines would not be allowed on designated or recommended wilderness areas or through eligible wild and scenic rivers.

Applications would be subject to review to ensure that natural and cultural resources are protected, the Forest Service said, and that they abide by the management plans for the two forests.

The George Washington and Jefferson are separate national forests that are administered by the same Roanoke-based office. They cover more than 1.8 million acres in Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky and represent one of the largest blocks of public land in the eastern United States.

Written comments are being accepted through Feb. 22.

Comments can be submitted by email to https://cara.ecosystemmanagement.org/Public/Commentlnput?Project=61463. Submissions can also be mailed to Joby Timm, forest supervisor, 5162 Valleypointe Parkway, Roanoke, Va., 24019.

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Laurence Hammack covers environmental issues, including the Mountain Valley Pipeline, and business and enterprise stories. He has been a reporter for The Roanoke Times for more than three decades.

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