By Sen. John Bell (D-13th)
Since I first came to Richmond in 2016, I committed to ensuring that rural western Loudoun County had a voice in Richmond and in the community. During my tenure one of the top concerns that constituents have continually raised is the lack of and quality of cell phone and broadband service in western Loudoun.
I have always looked for ways to enhance quality of life, economic development educational opportunities, and public safety in western Loudoun County and sought to balance that with preserving our environment. Given the number of adjustments that have been made by AT&T to alleviate concerns about the proposed cell phone tower which include the reduction in height, offer to camouflage, and provide landscaping, I believe approving the tower proposed on Short Hill Mountain is in the best interest of the 13th District, western Loudoun County and Virginia.
I have been proud to earn the support of the Sierra Club and League of Conservation Voters during my time in the General Assembly, so I know what it means to protect the environment. Having reviewed the visual impacts of the AT&T proposed tower, I believe that the proper balance between protecting the scenery while also providing improved cellular coverage has been achieved. The current plan allows for the tower to be installed without having to clear trees, grade a portion of a mountain, or otherwise cause any adverse environmental effects. The National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) and State Historical Preservation Office (SHPO) review agreed, stating the proposal has “no significant impact” and “no adverse effects.” Remember as well, the tower has been lowered to 125 feet from its original proposed height of 155 feet after AT&T heard from myself and the community. In fact, the two towers closest to this location, both located on the ridge line, are at 150 feet and 241 feet respectively. AT&T has also spent over $1M on landscaping and improvements to help minimize impacts and have offered to camouflage the tower if the community wishes and add additional plantings.
Part of representing and caring for rural western Loudoun County is also protecting the economic viability of businesses in the area. I hear from rural businesses all the time about the difficulties of operating and maintaining a business in rural Loudoun. In today’s world a necessary item is having the cellular and broadband coverage. Proper coverage allows organizations to process transactions, communicate with vendors, promote their business, and ensure the safety of their guests. I understand the view shed is a critical part of what a6racts customers to the businesses in Western Loudoun. But I, and others, also understand that these businesses cannot survive and grow without investments in infrastructure. That is why many of the individual businesses and business organizations around Short Hill Mountain support the proposed tower and honestly these businesses would stand to lose the most if the scenery were degraded.
Part of protecting and caring for rural Loudoun is also about protecting the people that live there. We know that a significant number of emergency calls occur within the radius of Short Hill Mountain. In fact, nearly 1,000 calls had been made to 911 in June and July within 5 miles of the site this year alone. We cannot take the risk of someone not receiving or being delayed in receiving life-saving care any longer. As leaders, we must ensure that our first responders have every tool to do their jobs in the safest way with dependable communications while dealing with emergency situations. Anything less would be a disservice to the community.
Not every decision we make as a community is going to have 100 percent agreement. This tower is no different, but after careful review of the project, the benefits far outweigh the risks. I understand the concerns of those who oppose the tower, but I ask you to please look at the pictures provided with an open mind and also think of the lives who are put at risk by poor cell service as well as the businesses,
home workers and school children who currently struggle with this issue. Western Loudoun needs this infrastructure today, and a rejection of the tower will likely mean no coverage or mobile broadband improvements in this area for years to come.