The Arlington-based telecommunications company Community Wireless Structures (CWS) says it plans to file applications with the Rappahannock County government to build two 199-foot lattice cell towers along Route 522-Sperryville Pike in Rappahannock County — one almost midway between Sperryville and Woodville, the other in Scrabble.
Saying it “would like to bring wireless connectivity and improved public safety to the Route 522 corridor in southwestern Rappahannock County, benefiting those who live, work, and travel nearby,” CWS has scheduled balloon tests for next Saturday, March 30, at both of the proposed site locations.
“The upcoming balloon flight will provide an opportunity for the community to make a visual assessment of the proposed structure,” CWS writes to residents of the county. “We value your input, and hope that you will view the balloon(s) and reach out with any questions or feedback.”
After filing a similar application in 2016, CWS eventually won approval from the Culpeper County Board of Supervisors to build the first-ever cell phone tower in the Boston region of the county, south of the Rappahannock County line. The original application called for a 250-foot tower, which was approved at 199 feet so that it didn’t require blinking red lights.
So far, however, only one cell carrier — T-Mobile — has signed a lease to provide service, which has upset supporters of the tower who have long desired cell and internet access in what has been described as a “dead zone.”
Here in Rappahannock County, the proposed CWS site for the first 199‐foot tower is near the intersection of Route 522 and Barrett Lane, almost midway between Sperryville and Woodville and arguably one of the county’s most pristine viewsheds.
The other tower would be located in Scrabble, near the intersection of Route 522 and Scrabble Road.
The same company, enjoying both support and facing opposition, recently won approval to build a similar tower along Woodward Road near Sperryville. That tower, which will support equipment for Rappahannock County Emergency Services, should be operational by May.
Hope McCreary, a spokeswoman for CWS, told the Rappahannock News on Sunday that the Arlington-based developer has been in business for over 20 years and has built telecommunication facilities all across northern and central Virginia. She said the company is accustomed to controversy surrounding such towers.
“It’s not unique to Rappahannock County, although Rappahannock certainly has its passionate citizens,” McCreary said in a telephone interview. “This is the business that we’re in. It’s very rare that nobody opposes [a tower], although it does occasionally happen. It’s up to the [Rappahannock County] decision makers to decide and weigh the different objectives.”
She added to some extent rural Virginians have “turned a corner,” realizing that cell and broadband towers and services are “a more essential part of life” — from children needing to do their homework to parents telecommuting. Then there are the emergency services advantages that cell and internet reception brings both to county residents and motorists.
McCreary pointed to a considerable volume of daily traffic on Route 522 — it’s a “fairly significant corridor, transportation corridor,” she said.
In addition, she observed, telephone landline subscribers, especially in Rappahannock County, have increasingly experienced difficulty with provider service and repairs.
“Landlines are increasingly unreliable, it’s harder to get people out to fix them,” she said.
As seen thus far with the new Boston tower, there are no guarantees that a specific communications provider will bring service to the proposed towers in Rappahannock County. McCreary said it’s the same issue faced in other rural areas nationally, it’s an “expensive proposition” when there are fewer residents.
“Bottom line, rural areas are not as high a priority as more urban areas,” she conceded, and a “certain amount of capital [is needed] to deploy.”
She stressed, however, that it’s not just about the number of residents surrounding a tower, but also the number of motorists who would benefit from a carrier supplying service at a particular location.
As far as any impact on Rappahannock’s scenic vistas, the CWS spokeswoman said “distance makes a huge impact on a structure.”
She noted that with the Woodward Road tower near Sperryville, the company was asked by its closest neighbor to paint the structure a light blue color, to mix with the sky. But for somebody else with a different view they might want it painted green to mix with the foliage.
“In my personal view, galvanized steel is the best choice,” she said. “Lattice is not a solid structure. The further away you get the less you’re going to see it.”
In its mailing to Rappahannock County residents, CWS stated: The pair of towers “will allow for seamless wireless connectivity along Route 522 from Sperryville to Boston. It will enhance public safety for those living and traveling in the area, and provide citizens much needed access to wireless and broadband services.
“The upcoming balloon flight will provide an opportunity for the community to make a visual assessment of the proposed structure. We value your input, and hope that you will view the balloon and reach out with any questions or feedback.”
CWS encouraged residents to visit its website: www.wirelessinrappahannock.com for additional information as well as any inclement weather updates for the balloon testing.
The company states on the site: “By every measurement, wireless service is now central to our lives. 95 percent of U.S. adults own a cellphone, and the vast majority of those are smartphones. 49 percent of households are wireless only and do not have a landline. More and more people are working from home and require reliable wireless to perform their jobs.”
As it also points out, towers like those CWS is proposing would not only require local zoning approval from the Rappahannock County government, but also a state historic review.
“In Rapphannock [sic] County our Personal Wireless Services Facilities Use Permit Application and Site Plan will be reviewed by the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors with associated public hearings,” the company states.
The CWS site also includes information on public health risks of living near cell towers, citing data from the Institute of Electrical & Electronic Engineers (IEEE), American Cancer Society, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and National Institutes of Health.
“For those interested in the underlying science, the Inverse Square Rule explains why it’s safe even at short distances from the antennas (the power source),” says CWS. “The Inverse Square Rule says that power diminishes significantly every time the distance from the power source is doubled.”
Editor’s note: The editor of the Rappahannock News owns a home midway between Scrabble and Woodville.