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Town continues push for cell service

By Kyle Benjamin, kbenjamin@wcyb.com
Published On: Jan 17 2014 05:05:31 PM CST
Updated On: Jan 17 2014 03:57:49 PM CST

People who live in Sugar Grove have satellite TV, but they have to find a phone attached to a land line if they want to make a call -- the nearest cell tower is almost 12 miles away and on the other side of a mountain.

SMYTH COUNTY, Va. -

Sugar Grove is a small community of about 1,000 people, nestled in the mountains of Southwest Virginia.

People who live in Sugar Grove have satellite TV, but they have to find a phone attached to a land line if they want to make a call -- the nearest cell tower is almost 12 miles away and on the other side of a mountain.

Sarah Combs and others in the town are continuing a 10-year effort to have cell tower installed. "That really concerns our community a lot, because it presents a safety concern not to have cellular service, especially between Sugar Grove and Marion," said Combs.

The two-lane road connecting Marion and Sugar Grove winds up and down a mountain. Combs said the road can get dangerous in the winter.

People in Sugar Grove all say the same thing: a working cell phone would make them feel safer. "The regular phone will go out, and you're stuck with nothing. If there is an emergency, you're stuck," said Bob Fonda, who owns Bob's Garage in Sugar Grove. 

Fonda's auto repair business and the customers it serves are also at the mercy of the nearest land line. Fonda told News 5 that not only do people who have a breakdown have to walk to find a phone, they may also have to wait until he returns to his shop to get that message.

Sugar Grove Baptist Church Pastor Billy Gwinn tells us it would help him with his ministry as well. "If there is a major medical concern of one of our parishioners, my wife cannot get ahold of me until I get home. I'm losing a lot of time when I need to be with families that are hurting," said Gwinn.

Cell service would also help Gwinn and his wife keep track of their kids. "A short text message [from my family] would be great just to have around this area," said Gwinn.

Rick Blevins, who sits on the Smyth County Board of Supervisors and serves the Sugar Grove community, said the major wireless providers know of the need for coverage in the area, but those providers are looking for the right financial circumstances. "Everyone is aware that there is a lack of service in the Sugar Grove area," said Blevins. "But basically what we've been told by all the providers is that they know there is a problem, they will monitor the situation, but at this time there are no plans for any additional coverage in the Sugar Grove area."

"If their numbers don't justify a tower to turn a profit, they're not very interested in it. But we will continue to keep pushing, contacting and seeing if we can get something going, "said Blevins.

Blevins said there is a glimmer of hope for people in Sugar Grove. A company that builds cell towers and rents space on the tower to wireless providers is interested in putting a tower in Sugar Grove, but has not made a firm commitment.  

Combs said the community will take and help it can get, and there are opportunities for grant money, but the need help writing that grant.

More information on Sugar Grove's efforts, and contact information for Sarah Combs can be found here on their Facebook page.