Cell tower ruling overturnedThe Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled Monday that AT&T Mobility LLC can build a 450-foot cellphone tower in Lake County with flashing lights that would be visible within parts of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, overturning a lower court’s finding that the environmental impact of the tower would be detrimental.
By: News Service, Lake County News Chronicle
The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled Monday that AT&T Mobility LLC can build a 450-foot cellphone tower in Lake County with flashing lights that would be visible within parts of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, overturning a lower court’s finding that the environmental impact of the tower would be detrimental.
The Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness had sued to block the 450-foot tower, saying its location atop a 150-foot-high ridge about 7.5 miles east of Ely in Fall Lake Township and 1.5 miles outside the BWCAW would make it visible from 10 lakes within the protected area. The group argued that a 199-foot tower without lights would provide sufficient coverage to residents along the Fernberg Road corridor east of Ely, as well as expanded emergency service for paddlers within the wilderness area.
A three-judge panel wrote that a lower court erred by concluding that allowing the tower would have a “materially adverse effect on the environment.” They said that the trial court failed to show that the negative effects of the proposed tower on the views within the Boundary Waters would be severe enough to justify blocking it.
AT&T said it now plans to replace the smaller tower, which recently became operational, with the taller tower without interrupting service.
“We agree with the Court of Appeals that the larger tower would not have a material adverse effect on the Boundary Waters,” spokesman Marty Richter said in an email. “On the contrary, we believe the limited impact of the tower is greatly outweighed by the benefits – including health and safety benefits – of the improved service it will provide residents and visitors. “
Paul Danicic, executive director of the Friends, said the ruling “seriously compromises” Minnesota’s ability to protect its scenic vistas. He said his group will review the ruling before deciding on further appeals. He also said AT&T has “perfectly viable” alternatives that would not impair America’s most-visited federally designated wilderness area.
“Thousands of our members firmly believe a 450-foot tower with a flashing red light on top that would be visible from several lakes up to 10 miles away would indeed harm the wilderness experience,” Danicic said.
Cellphone coverage is spotty in areas around Ely, one of the main gateways to the wilderness, and a few other areas close to civilization but it’s mostly unavailable elsewhere in the wilderness. The U.S. Forest Service warns visitors not to rely on getting a signal there.
Hennepin County District Judge Philip Bush ruled against the tall tower last August. But the Court of Appeals said he misapplied the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act, which allows citizens and groups to sue to protect the state’s natural resources.