Tower dispute on hold until trialThe two parties in a cell phone tower dispute near Ely have agreed to take their arguments to a full trial Nov. 29 after a hearing this week.
The two parties in a cell phone tower dispute near Ely have agreed to take their arguments to a full trial Nov. 29 after a hearing this week.
In late June, Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness sought a temporary halt to construction of an AT&T Mobility tower in Fall Lake Township near the federally protected Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. AT&T agreed to halt construction of the tower until the hearing Wednesday.
It was a short gathering of several attorneys for both sides, Lake County Attorney Russ Conrow said. He filed a brief in the case showing the county’s support of its dealings with AT&T and arguing the county’s permitting and zoning process to get the tower erected was proper. Conrow said the judge in district court in Minneapolis stopped any arguments from being made and asked the parties to meet outside of court to see if they could agree to move on to a fuller trial and a fuller discussion on the “merits” of the case.
“AT&T said they would agree to not build until a judge rules,” Conrow said.
Friends was satisfied and the injunction hearing was abandoned.
Friends filed its complaint citing the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act, which allows private citizens a way to court on environmental issues. The onus in such filings is on the defendant, who must rebut claims that its actions will harm the environment. Instead of making a case Wednesday, AT&T decided to wait until further discovery evidence could be compiled and agreed to hold off on any construction.
“We were happy to reach agreement on an expedited trial, so that the construction of this important public safety facility is not unduly delayed,” wrote spokesman Marty Richter in a prepared statement Friday. “We are confident that the county’s well-considered decision to approve that facility is correct …We look forward to presenting our case at trial and we hope for a prompt ruling on the merits.”
Friends has said the 450-foot tower will spoil the aesthetics of the BWCAW experience. “Our concern is the visual impact and depleting the value of the scenic vista,” said executive director Paul Danicic from the Friends office in Minneapolis. He said he has sought a dialogue with AT&T for more than a year on finding alternatives to the tower, suggesting a series of shorter towers to relay signals instead of one tall one.
He said that all along he has only wanted a “realistic” dialogue with AT&T. He wrote in a press release Thursday that he wants a “meaningful resolution with AT&T that will improve cell service for area residents.”
Lake County Commissioner Tom Clifford, who has led the effort to bring better cell phone coverage to the area, said restrictions on towers like the Friends of the Boundary Waters seeks would create a setback for those anxious for coverage.
He said AT&T met the guidelines for what the county zoning allows and it was approved on that basis. Clifford said an area like the one in Fall Lake is considered a “poverty site” for the cell phone companies because they are not likely to make much money there. He theorized that AT&T was compelled to put a tower there to relieve pressure from the Federal Communication Commission to offer service to remote parts of the country.