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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

AT&T suspends construction on Fall Lake cell tower

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 8/4/10

Construction of a 450-foot cell phone tower on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is now on hold, following an agreement reached Wednesday in a Minneapolis courtroom.

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AT&T suspends construction on Fall Lake cell tower

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Construction of a 450-foot cell phone tower on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is now on hold, following an agreement reached Wednesday in a Minneapolis courtroom.

AT&T, which had planned to build the tower near Fall Lake, has agreed to suspend its plans until a trial can be held on the merits of a lawsuit filed in June by Friends of the Boundary Waters. The Friends contend the tower, which will be visible from a large swath of the Boundary Waters wilderness, violates the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act. Both parties were in court on Wednesday, Aug. 4,

A trial date to test that legal theory has not been set, but is anticipated to occur no earlier than December.

On June 23, 2010, The Friends of the Boundary Waters filed a lawsuit alleging that the proposed tower would violate the MERA. At the Aug. 4 hearing, the Court was set to hear the Friends’ motion for a temporary injunction to halt construction.

“We are very pleased that AT&T agreed to stop construction of the proposed tower. It has been our intent all along to find common ground with AT&T regarding the need to assess the tower’s environmental impact and consider alternatives. We remain hopeful that we can find a meaningful resolution with AT&T that will improve cell phone service for area residents,” said Paul Danicic, Executive Director of the Friends.

The proposed 450-foot tower was set to sit on an elevated ridge within 1.5 miles of the Boundary Waters. According to the Friends, it would loom approximately 600 feet above the surrounding wilderness landscape. The tower will be illuminated day and night with strobe and beacon lighting, and will be visible for miles inside the wilderness area on several popular lakes, including Basswood, Fall, Ella Hall and South Farm Lakes. American Towers Inc. is also a defendant in the lawsuit.

But some local officials wonder whether the Friends are overstating their concerns. “There are all kinds of things that are visible from the wilderness,” said Mary Tome, a Fall Lake Township supervisor. “You can see car lights from some of the landings on Fall Lake. You can see airplanes. The border patrol is visible from parts of the wilderness. They’re flying around up there all the time,” said Tome.

According to Paul Danicic, Executive Director of the Friends, they are not opposed to cell phone enhancement in the Ely area, but want AT&T to consider less objectionable options.

But Tome, who sat on Lake County’s cell phone tower committee, said alternatives aren’t always better for the environment. She said representatives of the Audubon Society told the county committee that less visible towers have been shown to pose greater hazards for migrating birds. And Tome said a second option, of building two shorter towers, would likely have a greater impact than a single one.

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