Planners OK two more AT&T monopoles

After a public hearing at the high school attended by some 50 citizens Wednesday night, the Rappahannock County Planning Commission voted to recommend approval to the supervisors for two more cell tower proposals by AT&T.

Among those in attendance, more than two dozen citizens took their three minutes apiece to speak about AT&T’s plans to erect 199-foot monopoles in two locations — behind the high school off U.S. 211, and off Woodward Road in Sperryville. Although many prefaced their remarks with the caution that “I’m not against cell phone service,” the majority of those who spoke urged the commissioners to either reject the applications or delay action to allow more study or to find alternatives to erecting what will be the county’s tallest structures (along with an AT&T tower off U.S. 522 in Boston, which the supervisors approved at its Jan. 3 meeting).

We’ll have more on this story in the Jan. 27 print edition of the Rappahannock News. There’s a related story about Monday’s “informational” meeting on the cell service proposals sponsored by the Piedmont Environmental Council and Rappahannock League for Environmental Protection here, plus a digest of stories, photos and letters on the subject here.

Roger Piantadosi
About Roger Piantadosi 540 Articles
Former Rappahannock News editor Roger Piantadosi is a writer and works on web and video projects for Rappahannock Media and his own Synergist Media company. Before joining the News in 2009, he was a staff writer, editor and web developer at The Washington Post for almost 30 years.


  1. Upon more thinking, after our experience at the Public Hearing of the Planning Commission, we would like to add some comments which we posted on Rappnet. And in addition, we would like to thank Ben Jones for his numerous and spot on observations and contributions like his piece “Lets put this call on hold.”

    When something is being shoved down my throat it tends to bring out an attitude of distrust and resistance. I start looking for reasons for the aggressive action I am being assaulted with. As I look about I can see that the actual details behind the assertions that have been presented for the proposal are non-existent. This causes me to question the real motives of those in positions of power, particularly those who are supposed to be responsible for protecting and defending the quality of life that is part and parcel of why I live in Rappahannock County.

    This is A PERSONAL perspective on a priceless asset and our collective relation to it (but I don’t believe that I am the only one with this perspective); and why AT&T has failed to convince me that what they offer currently is in the best interests of even a simple majority of our citizens; and certainly not any reason to violate, yes to breach, the trust that has been placed in our hands by those who bequeathed to us the priceless asset that is Rappahannock County.

    With a cursory online search one can see that AT&T has more specific information for the rest of its network at its disposal. There certainly is more than has been provided to date to Rappahannock County which would better and more clearly define what we are really getting:


    “For most consumers, the most important AT&T coverage map is the one for GSM voice service. There are also maps available for data, GoPhone, Mobile TV, and Smart Limits.” then “Whereas the AT&T coverage map only tells you whether or not there is service in your area, the T-Mobile coverage map gives you information about the relative signal strength. On the map, which is also completely interactive with zooming and panning, T-Mobile will tell you whether the signal strength is best, good, fair, or none. In this cell phone service area comparison, you’ll also find information about roaming coverage, T-Mobile HotSpot locations, and roaming HotSpot locations.”

    In our case, the gsm coverage would seem to be only a piece of the information, and a piece that needs to quantify how much of our population will have usable in-building coverage and where it will have in vehicle coverage off of the primary highways; and the assertions made about providing broad band needs to be qualified and quantified. The other services need similar elucidation.

    If such information is readily available, (and you can be sure that if the other players have it, then even if AT&T doesn’t make it generally available, that they have it too) why has AT&T not provided such detail with their proposed network implementation in Rappahannock County?

    Even more to the point:

    Why have our representatives not specifically asked for the information or at least indicated that it is lacking? What exactly are they basing the decision to approve a Special Use application upon?

    Its not like somebody is doing an accurate poll of citizens for and against and our representatives are or should be bound to follow that; and that isn’t the role of our Representatives in this matter anyway.

    Since other providers have similar and even more highly specific information available:

    “For Verizon: The interactive map can display information for voice and messaging, enhanced services, broadband, V CAST mobile TV, push to talk, and prepaid. The coverage map is further broken down into digital coverage, analog coverage, and no coverage.”

    “For Sprint:The interactive Sprint coverage map breaks down its services based on Sprint devices, Nextel devices, and PowerSource devices. The map will show where there is voice coverage, voice coverage with varying signal strength, roaming areas, and no coverage.”

    Again that is from

    So – why has none of the parties responsible for review and oversight of the proposal and attendant assertions made by AT&T indicated that they have accessed this information? Why has no one made a comprehensive comparison so that we can easily discern such things as specific uses which will likely be available, where they will be available, where and to what extent there will be overlap with other providers offerings, and a true evaluation of how many of us will get “broadband” access? That “broadband” access, which AT&T presents to us as “the Government has mandated” that they must (be allowed to) provide and spread out to us here in the boonies. (And which appears to be a major piece of the justification for the intrusion of two hundred foot structures into our scenery.)

    In truth, they most assuredly know for every single habitable structure in the County whether a signal will be available there. They know this specifically for each type of signal and service they are capable of delivering with their proposed network and they can project a highly reliable estimate of just what strength and level of reliability for each of those signals at every location.

    There are those of you who assert that such information has been provided, to your satisfaction. You assert and AT&T asserts, but nowhere is an accurate quantification provided. No one has been able to translate what you think you have into a meaningful way to show that, indeed, a clear majority of us gain by this implementation, particularly those which weren’t served before; in what specific ways, and why that is worth the sacrifice and degradation of a priceless asset.

    Have we been swallowed up by the pervasive attitude of our times that is so saturated with impatience? Something akin to “This is what I want, and I want it now, so lets get it now and don’t worry about the cost. Besides, it might not be available except for now and I want it NOW!”? And just a bit of “Hey, part of that inheritance is mine and this is how I want to spend it!”

    Since not all of our citizenry will get even cell phone basic voice service (AT&T GSM) by the placement of these intrusions into our locally previously protected environment – specifically for protection of its scenic nature;

    and since many fewer will be able to utilize the other more advanced digital applications and devices,

    how then are we to discern the degree and type of benefit we might gain by a sacrifice of what can readily be seen as the inheritance and heritage that others, our predecessors, have entrusted to our care?

    Each of us has a shared title to the inheritance that was bequeathed to us by those who had the vision and strength of character to protect such a unique and special place: Rappahannock County. But that shared title to this inheritance comes with the caveat that any of it that is spent by any one of us is a literal taking of it from everyone else.

    I posit that your shared title to this asset is not one that can be cashed in, but only held in trust.

    You own a share that allows you ongoing access and the privilege of being part of it, but that does not extend to a right to spend it; only to act as a responsible steward who holds in trust a priceless asset to be passed on to those who follow.

    So where is the due diligence? Where is the responsible stewardship that is part of serving in a public office?

    Decisions that diminish what has been bequeathed to us instead of bolstering and enhancing it are completely contrary to the overall health and well being of the community, and that community is way more than just the people. In addition to the human component, it is the sum of the environment and ambiance and natural beauty that surrounds us.

    We can not possibly be seen as prohibiting cell phone infrastructure, in a legal sense, when we already have permitted the installation of some cell service – the provider of which has worked heroically to cooperate with the needs and greater objectives of our unique environment. (That is an especially accurate characterization compared to the behavior and demeanor that AT&T has presented.)

    There is absolutely no excuse for hustling through a defined process and not doing it thoroughly and diligently!

    This proposal, providing partial overlapping service with our previous service provider but calling all of it a “benefit” to us, and in the process polluting our inheritance is NOT in the best interest of the majority of Rappahannock County.

    Until it is specifically proven that it is, and that has NOT been done, then there is no reason to proceed with installing more AT&T infrastructure as it has been proposed so far!

    We should not be in the position of needing to ask for the information.

    We don’t need to ask for it!

    All we need to say is “it has not been shown to our satisfaction and a string of your assertions haven’t been validated”.

    The burden of providing satisfaction is on the applicant for a Special Use, and all latitude in the process belongs to us, the Community.

    Mr. & Mrs. Pagano

  2. Not to be too harsh but exactly, when are we predicting the first cell phone related car fatality occur? I have this horror of one of the teenagers in the country driving down 729 with a cell phone practically sewn to their ear. It can dangerous enough to drive in this county without adding distractions. I concede that we have a state law banning teen use of cell phones, but we also have laws against speeding and wreck-less driving that are also disobeyed.

    According to DOT/NHST Rappahannock has had 36 fatalities due to car accidents from 1994-2008 (21 in the last 10 years). Someone should be tracking this metric and correlating it with the approval and implementation of the towers. It will be interesting (albeit sad) to see the trend if any.

    Beyond the arguments of the aesthetic value of the county, the disillusionment with local leaders, or the rise/expansion of technology, there is a value on human life that should be considered. Does the progress and convenience of a society prevail over that societies value on human life?

    Please don’t get me wrong here, I don’t believe this is the end of Rappahannock as we know it, nor do I believe this to spur economic growth. Would I like the convenience of having cell phone service in the county? Probably. Do I want them to be placed in more conspicuous locations? Yes. Do I think we’ll have more accidents and fatalities as a result of this implementation? Yes, but I should wait until the the data is available to develop a theory rather than have the data manipulated by a theory i’ve already formed.

    If this is truly what the county wants or what the BOS believes the constituency needs, we should realize and humanize what the consequences of this decision are. 5 years from now, I hope we can look back and not tie a face and name to a rather sad statistic.

    “The state of nature is a state of liberty but it is not a state of license” – Locke

    Rob Reeve

  3. Everyone who lives in Rappahannock County has a stake in the attributes that make Rappahannock the place it is. Many of us, hardly elitists, have worked hard to be here and have forsaken many opportunities for financial gain in order to do so. The attributes that make Rappahannock an attractive and desirable place to be, they are what Mr. Rowe and some others, apparently less than firmly rooted members of the community, would like to “sell off” in hopes of having their own personal preference enabled. The trouble with that is that what Mr. Rowe would “sell off” amounts to a “taking” from all the rest of us of an irreplaceable asset which we all have the responsibility to hold in Trust. It doesn’t really belong to any one of us. It doesn’t even belong to a majority of us. Not in the sense that it is ours to sell. But the moral obligation to perform in a responsible fiduciary fashion for something that isn’t “priced” with a specific dollar value by our economic system seems to be beyond some peoples comprehension or even range of vision. For them it would appear that such things aren’t even worthy of attention let alone protection and stewardship.

    Harm is being done and it isn’t by a bunch of “elitists and environmentalist extremists”. The harm is being done by people who either won’t or can’t see past their own selfish wants – not needs. Not that there are many who can discern the difference given the tenor of the times and the intense impatience that appears to be endemic if not epidemic throughout our culture. We, all the citizens, have a right to have the benefits quantified before any sacrifice by anyone is made. The information that delineates those benefits that might in some way compensate for taking something irreplaceable from everyone else has not been presented. It apparently has not been sought by those who have the reins of review and evaluation and even of granting approval. And with all due respect to Mr. McCarthy, the role of an Administrator would seem to be one of assuring that all the pieces of the apparatus of government are fully protecting the long term values of our Community for us all, not just a portion of us. It would seem most appropriate if the actions taken would fully exercise the nature of what a Special Use application implies. It would not seem appropriate for an Administrator to be weighting the decision of the governmental apparatus, particularly when there is a process to be followed, by indicating that “the people have spoken to me and this is what I heard. Therefore we need not get the details because to do so will just delay our getting what we want and we can trust the assertions at face value.” Not that our County Administrator would do that, but that appears to be what Mr. Rowe is asserting he is doing.

    Seemingly, to Mr. Rowe if anyone has enough time to attend Public Meetings they are dilettantes and of a lesser class because they have the time to engage with such things. It obviously doesn’t occur to him that if they indeed “have time on their hands” they have paid for it and prioritized in order to participate; perhaps that is because he wouldn’t think of paying such a price himself. Again, it would appear that his personal gratification trumps everyone else.

    Mr. Rowe would like us to believe that we are collectively preventing him from obtaining a critical resource that he needs to do his “work” and he would like us to think that there are many more of us like him. Don’t be fooled. It isn’t like there is no service of any kind that would provide him with internet access (he was able to post here) and it isn’t like he didn’t know what Rappahannock was like when he came here. What Mr. Rowe appears to want is his way and he doesn’t appear to be above blaming others for his not having the methods and means which he prefers. Mr. Rowe apparently doesn’t mind that not even a simple majority of us will really benefit from AT&T’s implementation. And he doesn’t seem to mind that we will all continue to pay for his immediate gratification after he moves away… In fact, it would appear that for Mr. Rowe our interests in comparison to his are totally insignificant.

    Granting AT&T permits to implement this network proposal as it stands isn’t even a gamble; like we might get back more than what we are paying. We are breaching the trust that was placed in us when we became part of Rappahannock County. It isn’t a place where you come here and then make it like you want it to be. It is a place where you come to and integrate yourself into what it is, doing your best to enhance the essence of it and not detract from it and pollute it. Our Representatives are giving away, for a temporary high, that which can’t be replaced at any price, and they are doing it without even trying to keep things in balance by getting the real information about how many actually benefit which didn’t before. If you don’t have meaningful data to make an informed judgment then in computer terms they call it Garbage in Garbage out. It literally makes the whole thing suitable for the trash.

    Mr. Pagano

  4. Mr. Rowe,

    Recently, on your blog, you wrote a heartfelt tribute to the rural joys of our county, contrasting it to our neighbors, who have yielded to the dehumanizing “dumbing down” of 21st-century commercialization. (Or something like that . . . ) Anyhow, it was a nice piece of
    writing, which seemed to recognize the wisdom of those who have worked to protect the unique quality of life we share here, and of which we are justly proud.

    Then last week you announced on your blog that you were selling your farm and moving to Chile. I assume you are moving to an area in the Andes where they have cell phones.

    Whichever it is, I wish you well.

    But I cannot but quibble with your post above which accuses those of us who are against the AT&T cell tower proposal as being “elitists” and “environmental extremists.” On your web site, you talk of fine wine and fox hunting, which are not exactly the domain of us “working people.” So I am confused here, a condition which I find myself in a lot these days.

    I think this name calling is ironic. I grew up not only without a telephone, but without electricity or indoor plumbing. And I will put my work ethic up against anybody’s. I go at it all day long, but it really isn’t work if you enjoy it, is it? I work hard to pay my bills, too. You obviously have internet service, or you couldn’t have sent your post. And we are going to get cell towers whether we want them or not. That is the unfortunate law. The disagreement here is “what are they going to look like and where are they going to be?”

    I may have been a bit over the line in some of my comments. If anyone has taken offense, so be it. I hope you know that it is because I put my love of this place ahead of just about anything else. Call me what you want. But you might be wrong. Adios, Walker Rowe. Y Bueno Suerte.

    Ben Jones

  5. What makes some of you mad is that the BOS and Mr. McCarthy are in this debate listening to the working people instead of the elitists and environmentalist extremists. Most of the people who turned out for these meetings were those with time on their hands while those of us who need cell and internet service most were at our jobs working to pay the bills. Thanks BOS for continuing to listen to constituents like me who need a cell signal for safety, work, and overall communications.

  6. Kudos to Mr. and Mrs.Pagano for clearly saying what a lot of us have been trying to say. Our
    representatives are not representing the interests of the county’s citizens, but the interests of
    AT&T. (This is true whether or not one supports the towers in one form or another.) There has been
    a clear lack of advocacy on behalf of the citizens who have to live with these towers.

    And despite what we have been told, the Communications Act of 1996 did not rob Americans of their First Amendment right to thoroughly scrutinize this proposal, and to ask any question about any element of it. What is going on here is a startling rush to push through a very questionable proposal without “due diligence” and the result has already divided our community in a troublesome way. The questions the Paganos raise deserve a serious answer, or a serious lawsuit.

    More than ever, this process makes me miss the leadership of Pete Estes and Dr. Werner Krebser.

    We were fortunate to have had their brains and their courage at the wheel of our future.

    Ben Jones

  7. More comments to add

    According to some, many here in the County strongly support the installation of AT&T infrastructure regardless of any possible reasons to at least hesitate in the review and approval process. Some have even suggested that those who aren’t going to newly benefit from this installation should step aside and butt out so that those who will benefit can do so… After all, everybody should have what they want and as long as THEY can get it that should be sufficient enough reason to proceed.

    Who are those among this denizen of supposed beneficiaries to the AT&T installation and how many of them already have some form of at least “walk outside and find the best location” voice phone signal? – The numbers provided by AT&T that claim 45% or greater of our population will benefit seem to be a bit self-serving, unless you believe that just having the opportunity to be an AT&T customer is a sufficient benefit, even if for only 45% of us.

    There are many of us who have no service at all, not just in the house or while driving down the road, but anywhere close and from any provider. Many of those AT&T assert will benefit already have service from Sprint or other carriers. (For those of you who can drive down the road now for a signal, are you responsible enough to pull over and stop driving to use it? – Will even a small portion of the increment which will gain such access do so responsibly?)

    Outside the building “here and there” coverage MAY be useful for safety services/rescue operations, and then again it may not, depending on if it is somewhere close and the signal can be found. As we all know the AT&T proposal won’t provide universal safety service coverage. For most of us that spotty coverage doesn’t constitute a significant gain. And with that type of signal availability your communication device, when on, will be constantly ramping up its transmission seeking the “handshake” that says “signal available, go ahead and transmit”. The constant “seeking” at higher and higher transmission levels rapidly wears down your battery and without a backpack of spares your ability to use your device is pretty limited. That is the case even if you aren’t using the more power demanding features of your device.

    It is obvious that only a small portion of our population are those who may be covered by the new installations and who weren’t covered by something before. Is it really in the majority’s interest to provide more options for some and a before now unavailable marginal service to a few more while not providing an improvement for at least a simple majority of the rest of us?

    Not all of us have the same priorities nor even preferences or tastes; however, our published and codified procedures do emphasize some of the things which most of us thought were important enough to attempt to preserve long term. Among those particularly would be to preserve and assure that which brought us to Rappahannock County would still be here for our continued enjoyment as well as to pass on to future generations: its beauty and relative scenic attributes. (Those would be some of the most prominent/important factors that established the very basis for the prices we paid for the land we bought.)

    Now the things that for me constitute beauty and aesthetics may well not be a match for how you see the world, but almost universally we all agree that the idea embodied in the words “scenic” and “pastoral” and “viewshed” are common points of interest with very much agreement amongst us as to what makes up those qualities. More visual intrusion being acceptable and of little consequence because some already exist is more than just poor reasoning! Especially so when we are doing it to ourselves and it isn’t required by some supposedly superior authority.

    The intrusion of things like 200 foot or there abouts towers into the “picture” is not consistent with any rural country pastoral vision I have. It is intrusive, even repugnant. (Give a hoot! Don’t pollute!)

    Until absolutely every effort has been made to find alternatives to the degradation of the very qualities which we have jointly agreed to enshrine in something called a Comprehensive Plan; and which is the very basis for our zoning ordinances; then a finding that the mere assertion that even 45% of us benefit is sufficient to sacrifice those qualities is a major breech of trust by our elected and appointed representatives. The true data to compare what has been submitted continues to be lacking. There is no way to say that any significant portion of our population will actually benefit especially to the extent of broadband service and judging that such a benefit to those is more important than the safeguarding of the environment that brought us all together is more than just premature. To assert it without the proof is hubris and exaggeration. To accept the assertion without examination is dereliction of duty and breech of trust.

    The costs of granting these applications is way more than the benefits to our collective community until factually proven otherwise. AT&T has broken up the application process so we view each location individually but continues to emphasize that what they need is a complete network as proposed! It is either one or the other and it is ingenuous to attempt to leverage further individual site approvals because of the assertion that without them the network won’t be complete.

    I sincerely hope that there is more afoot with our Board of Supervisors than was evidenced in the examination provided by their advisory panel…

  8. As an addendum to what we have already said:

    Where we have said ‘It is not understandable to have Commission members decide an issue before them before the information is even reviewed or independently validated.”

    This is especially true when the appearance exists that all that is required is to submit something, like in a process check off sheet, and once submitted the issue is closed. If that is the standard for a Special Use application it better be applied equally to all applications submitted by each and every one of us; but that converts the whole Special Use category to something akin to a by-right application that has to have the proper setbacks shown and fees paid etc and then approval is granted. we don’t think we want that.

  9. What we witnessed last night as a result of attending the Rappahannock County Planning Commission public hearing seems to us to exemplify the very essence of why the population in general throughout the Country views Government at all levels as non-responsive, intrusive and needing to be changed at a radical level. Some call it a “nanny State” approach to government. Others might see it in even harsher terms.

    It felt like the governmental body thought its job was to shepherd the citizens and their interests, and once they had “gotten a feel” for what they thought that was, they proceeded; rather than follow a thorough process of evaluation before making a recommendation. It felt like an insult to the citizenry to have them assemble for the process we witnessed.

    The process cannot be viewed as one that can be manipulated to suit the supposed or divined (intuited) tenor of the public at large. If there is that much latitude in the process, then it needs to be drastically revised, in our opinion.

    In government and politics perception is as important as any other element — perhaps more so. With all due respect to our county administrator, Mr. McCarthy, who adamantly asserts that the process used to evaluate the proposal provided by AT&T was equivalent to that used regarding the previous Sprint application; the perception is to the contrary.

    The vast majority of spoken input that we heard was urging the commission to delay action — not deny the application — until clarification and independent authentication of submitted information could be accomplished. Some of that information in part was provided at the 12th hour before the meeting and was impossible for the public to have had an opportunity to review and comment on.

    AT&T has projected that some number greater than 3,000 of our residents will “benefit” by having access to one of their cell tower signals. That is not to say that anywhere near that number will have a signal strong enough to have either broadband or data but that a bar or so of signal might be available if you walk outside and look for an absolutely optimal location for THEIR service. We already have spotty and intermittent service from several other providers. How does AT&T improve THAT coverage and what are the numbers? Sure, some areas will get an opportunity for some kind of service that didn’t before, but what is that? What does it look like? Much of the area of best signal strength which will actually provide access to broadband is already served by cable since the primary focus of the AT&T network is the major highway corridors; and places like Sperryville already has both DSL and cable as an option. More options for service for those already served is not expansion of any meaningful nature for the rest of the county residents when it comes to the much-touted federal support for the expansion of broadband to those of us in the hinterlands.

    Although Mr. McCarthy has asserted that some people have to suffer for the greater benefit of the majority therefore the voices of those in immediate proximity to the poles should not be given greater consideration this hardly seems like the way other special use applications are handled. And it certainly has not been shown how great that portion of us is that will actually gain from what is proposed other than the opportunity to be AT&T customers.

    When one commissioner spoke he stated that he had heard nothing that was going to change his recommendation for approval so he was voting for approval. Is this someone who is providing due diligence in the performance of a key element of our defined process? Not all the pertinent questions have been asked, and the information that has been provided, has not been validated; but why clutter up the issue with a thorough examination — in the end we are going to vote for it anyway . . .

    It is understandable that the commission members may not have had the expertise to ask all the pertinent questions and be able to adequately review the responses provided. There is no reason why independent outside professional review couldn’t be and wasn’t sought. It is not understandable to have commission members decide an issue before them before the information is even reviewed or independently validated.

    It is really disheartening to have a small population like that of Rappahannock County find itself subject to LOCAL governmental action that is so clearly lacking in thoroughness and so unresponsive to the citizens when a significant number of them are clearly pointing out that the necessary due diligence has not been accomplished.

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