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Can you hear me now? Thanks to Nickelsville cell tower project, the answer could be 'Yes'

Mike Still • Jul 2, 2020 at 3:00 PM

NICKELSVILLE — A lack of cell phone service has long been a problem in Nickelsville, and economic development officials and Virginia legislative representatives joined Wednesday to break ground on a $241,000 cell tower to fix that problem.

Construction on the tower — funded through a partnership between the Virginia Tobacco Commission, the Virginia Coalfield Coalition and LENOWISCO Planning District Commission — will begin in about three weeks after delivery to the site next door to the Scott County Telephone Cooperative office in Nickelsville, LENOWISCO Executive Director Duane Miller said.

Contractor Advanced Wireless Services will handle the construction, which should be completed by early September, Miller said.

Actual service depends on final engineering and obtaining necessary environmental and regulatory permits by Verizon — the first provider to set up service on the tower — said Verizon network assurance manager Dennis Crigger. That work will be handled by Verizon’s engineering department, he said, and company officials are projecting actual cell service to start in the first quarter of 2021.

Nickelsville Mayor Danny Dixon, in remarks before the groundbreaking, said the impetus for the tower project goes back to a 2009 community strategic planning meeting where 100 community members told town officials of two priorities: a multi-purpose community health care center and reliable cell service.

Dixon said the town now has two types of cell coverage: “slim and none.”

“This will help a lot pf people who drive through here on a daily basis,” Dixon said.

Virginia Coalfields Coalition Chairman Joe Fawbush said the partnership has also depended heavily on the leadership of the Scott County Telephone Cooperative, which has helped VCC expand coverage in the LENOWISCO and Cumberland Plateau planning districts’ member counties and city in far Southwest Virginia.

SCTC CEO Bill Franklin said the cooperative’s work with VCC began in 2011 with 16 tower sites and now spans 64 towers in various communities.

“We wouldn’t have had the partnership without the funding,” Franklin said, “and we wouldn’t have had the funding without the leadership of Delegate (Terry) Kilgore.”

Franklin also credited consulting firm Blue Ridge Advisory Services — whose staff includes former LENOWISCO Executive Director Glen Skinner — with helping develop the Nickelsville project.

Tyler Lester, legislative aide to state Sen. Todd Pillion, R-Abingdon, said, “As the old Verizon commercial said, can you hear me now?”

Lester, relaying Pillion’s comments, said the Nickelsville tower, when complete, will give some level of wireless service coverage in every incorporated town in the LENOWISCO Planning District.

“We know that this and broadband are not just tools of convenience,” Pillion said in his statement. “They are more and more essential to everyday life.”

“I don’t know how many calls I’ve received about Nickelsville’s cell tower,” said Kilgore, R-Gate City and chairman of the Tobacco Commission. “It’s going to provide access, and access is important with COVID-19 for businesses and for students.”

Kilgore credited his colleagues on the commission with helping with cell and wireless expansion in Southwest Virginia.

“(Former state Sen.) William Wampler Jr. always had a saying when projects like this were announced: “ ‘This is big,’ ” Kilgore said.

LENOWISCO’s Miller joked with Dixon that Nickelsville would have a new problem when the tower service starts.

“You’re going to see a 100% increase in texting-while-driving offenses,” Miller said.

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