In a four-to-one vote Monday night, the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors cleared the way for AT&T to construct a 199-foot cell tower behind Rappahannock High School in accordance with a revised plan meant to address concerns about the pole’s proximity to school buildings.
At the same meeting, the supervisors postponed action on AT&T’s final two proposals, to extend existing Sprint monopoles at Ben Venue and Amissville, while it considers an alternative.
Under the plan approved by supervisors after a public hearing Monday night, the high school monopole was moved from 84 to 232 feet from the school, and from 419 to 565 feet from U.S. 211.
The board had planned to consider approval, as recommended last month by the planning commission, of two tower extensions at Ben Venue and Amissville. But then a request was made Monday afternoon by Stonewall-Hawthorne Supervisor Chris Parrish — that AT&T investigate the impact of reducing the height of the proposed 144-foot monopole at Ben Venue, and instead investigate extending the height of an existing Sprint tower at Massies Corner.
AT&T representative Ed Donohue agreed and said he would report next month to the board, which then voted to table both the Ben Venue and Amissville applications.
Piedmont District Supervisor Mike Biniek moved to delay approval of all three monopoles until the final configuration was determined. “We might be cutting off an opportunity to provide better coverage,” said Biniek. With no support from fellow board members, however, the motion failed.
Biniek cast the lone vote against approving the high school monopole.
In a public-comment period lasting 20 minutes, five county residents voiced objections to allowing construction of the high school monopole.
Eric Plaksin of Sperryville was the first to the microphone. He asked whether, if close proximity to cell towers was discovered to cause illness, the county might escape from its contract. County Administrator John W. McCarthy responded that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had authority over potential health risks caused by cellular signals, and that the county had no say in the matter.
Donald Porter, a longtime property owner near the high school, shared Plaksin’s concern in speaking to the board.
“You don’t care about your grandkids, so I know you don’t care about mine,” said Porter. “In my opinion, you’re prostituting Rappahannock County to AT&T.” Porter referred to AT&T’s lease payments to the school board for hosting the monopole.
Pamela Chovnick, a Spanish language teacher at the high school and a Flint Hill resident, earnestly spoke of fears that radiation from the cell tower will cause cancer. Moreover, the FCC’s determination that cell towers do not cause physical harm is unreliable, she said. According to Chovnick, many commission members have ties to the telecommunications industry. Her preference is to wait for fiber optic development.
Among the supervisors, Parrish expressed concern that the signal might actually pass over the school. Donohue assured the Board that the school would receive a robust signal. Hampton District Supervisor Bryant Lee and Parrish both said they thought the tower was too close to the high school in its first design. Parrish said he appreciated AT&T’s initiative to move it.
The supervisors have already approved 199-foot AT&T monopoles off U.S. 522 in Boston and off Woodward Road in Sperryville. All five applications for special cellular-facility permits under the county’s zoning ordinance, which allow cellular towers up to 200 feet, were filed in October.