Company wants to build, lease cell tower at high school, other sites

In a 30-minute informational meeting Tuesday night (July 15) attended by fewer than 10 people, the Rappahannock County School Board heard a presentation outlining Community Wireless Structure’s proposal to place a monopole cell phone tower on high school property.

Back in 2011, the county supervisors approved AT&T’s request to extend two existing Sprint towers in Amissville and Ben Venue, as well as granted permission for three 199-foot monopoles — behind Rappahannock County High School, off Woodward Road south of Sperryville and off U.S. 522 near Boston — though not without some controversy.

(AT&T never built the three new towers, extending only the Amissville and Ben Venue poles and adding its own antenna arrays only to the Ben Venue site.)

CWS founder Thomas A. Murray told the board that the company specialized in setting up cell infrastructure in Virginia, erecting 45 structures in 11 counties thus far. The 199-foot pole (located in the same spot previously approved for AT&T) would be designed for multiple carriers, Murray said.

“T-Mobile hasn’t come out here yet; Verizon is sniffing around; AT&T started and left,” Murray said. “We would want to see as many carriers as possible out here.”

To help accomplish that, CWS would ask for more space than AT&T originally did, extending the total area to 5,000 square feet. Though Murray said CWS could “probably make do with less,” the company is “focused on co-location” — allowing multiple carriers room to operate.

“All national carriers use ground space,” Murray explained.

CWS is pursuing all three sites previously approved for AT&T, Murray said — including the Sperryville site on Woodward Road, on a farm owned by Jake and Beth Jones, who Murray said have already signed a lease with Community Wireless.

Jackson district representative Amy Hitt asked Murray whether the proposed tower would provide service to Castleton and Sperryville, or whether that would require additional towers (likely at the fire halls, Hitt suggested).

“That’s difficult for me to answer because we only provide the infrastructure,” Murray said. “I don’t have any service, but I will offer an opinion.” Murray said that the towers at the high school and Woodward Road would likely cover “the greater part of Sperryville,” and would most likely grant at least some coverage west of the village toward Luray.

“I hesitated to put those coverage maps up there,” Murray admitted, “because I’m not sure people understand how many sites are needed to make a network [work]. If this was Las Vegas and perfectly flat, one tower could reach several miles . . . But here you have rolling countrysides, extreme foliage, you’re right up against the mountains — all of that impedes your service.”

Woodville resident Cynthia Price was the night’s lone public speaker and spoke against the towers and their respective locations. One of the towers, Price noted, was within three miles of her home. “I don’t want microwave radiation out here,” she added.

Price noted much of the community, including several people she had spoken with who were also against the towers, were likely on vacation and unable to attend the meeting. That and the fact that schools are not in session, she said, made it seem “almost like [Community Wireless is] coming in the back door.”

“I’m curious how they can build these towers without a permit, without public hearings and without considering the feelings of the neighbors . . . I am opposed to microwave radiation. We’ve known since the 1950s it’s harmful . . . It’s not just bad for people; it’s bad for animals and bad for the plants.”

Price then read off a long list of harmful side effects she said were caused by microwave radiation, including depression, anxiety, headaches, fatigue, cancers, sterility and more. “There’s enough information out there to not just assume that a wireless world is the healthiest choice for everyone,” Price said.

“You can connect without all this radiation; you just have to be smart about it.”

No decision was asked of or made by the school board Tuesday night. Murray said after the meeting that approval is a year-long process, which includes obtaining a special exception permit from the county planning commission, as well as building permits and final approval from the supervisors.