Guest Commentary: Show some creativity on tower issueSome folks suggest that “outsiders” questioning the proposed Fernberg cell phone tower near the Boundary Waters are pegging us Elyites as second-class citizens.
By: Paul and Susan Schurke, Ely, Lake County News Chronicle
Some folks suggest that “outsiders” questioning the proposed Fernberg cell phone tower near the Boundary Waters are pegging us Elyites as second-class citizens. But what’s really making us out to be hicks is that our township and county leaders aren’t asking the tough questions of AT&T that would show we’ve got a little political savvy. After all, the days when communities would grovel for cell service are long gone. Nowadays cell companies are scrambling to fill the last remaining service pockets and they’re willing to wheel and deal when community leaders show a little moxy.
Vacation communities around the country have gotten phone companies to provide cell service without diminishing the scenic qualities that are key to their economic base. These towns are near nature reserves, state parks or along coastal highways – areas with nowhere near the protection of a federally-protected wilderness area. Nonetheless they’ve leveraged their concerns to not only secure concessions regarding the towers but also in some cases to secure leases of tens of thousands of dollars per year. Given that we’ve got vastly more leverage up here with the BWCAW, AT&T must be chortling with glee that they haven’t had to battle any community resistance. They probably can’t believe their good luck that local township and county leaders are doing the dirty work for them by ridiculing those who have raised questions about the tower rather than raising questions themselves of AT&T.
The 1996 Telecommunications Act allows local jurisdictions to set maximum heights for towers. Many areas now restrict towers to under 200 feet, the height above which FCC rules require aircraft illumination. One tall flashing tower on the Fernberg may allow AT&T to outcompete other phone companies, but two shorter unlit towers may provide ample phone coverage for area residents. We don’t know because our community leaders have not pressed AT&T for options.
The burden of proof is on phone companies to present all alternative tower options upon community request. But none of our community leaders are requesting that. Perhaps it’s just the typical knee-jerk reaction: “if the tree-huggers are against it, we’re for it – no matter what the issue is.”
The worry here is that if our local leaders don’t have the backbone to leverage concessions from a phone company or even just ask a few questions, what confidence can we have that they’ll go to bat for us when there are huge issues at stake – like our entire watershed. Are they just going to roll over and play dead if mining companies don’t provide the assurances we need that toxic metals will never leach into our lakes and rivers?
The phone and mining companies have one mission: to make money. Our community leaders have another: to ensure that’s done without compromising our quality of life. Let’s hope they rise to the task and show we’re not pushovers.