Judge to decide on cell tower near BWCA

  • Article by: RANDY FURST , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 15, 2011 - 9:20 PM

Testimony has concluded in the trial over whether to build a 450-foot cell phone tower east of Ely.

Testimony has concluded in a civil trial over whether to build a 450-foot cell phone tower on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness that a conservation group claims will mar the "majestic scenery and wilderness experience" and pose a threat of death or injury to migratory birds.

Hennepin County District Judge Phillip Bush said final briefs and replies must be submitted within four weeks. He is expected to issue his decision within about 45 days after that.

Bush must decide whether the company should be allowed to build the tower on a ridge east of Ely near the Fernberg Trail, about 1 1/2 miles from the BWCA border.

Attorneys for AT&T Mobility and American Towers Inc., who want to build the telecommunications tower near Fall Lake, Minn., contend that it is vital for public safety to provide cellular phone service to residents and visitors.

The tower would include lights that would flash day and night. With the height of the ridge, the top of the tower would reach 600 feet above the shore of nearby Pipestone Bay. By comparison, Minneapolis' tallest building, the IDS Tower, is 886 feet.

The 1.1 million-acre wilderness is in the heart of Minnesota's Superior National Forest.

The cell phone firms contend that the tower would not have an adverse environmental impact. Many people would not even see it, they argue.

Bush heard closing arguments in the suit on Thursday from Stephen P. Safranski, an attorney for the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, and Jim Metropoulos, an attorney for the cell phone and tower companies.

During a four-day trial, 15 witnesses testified, and the judge accepted 10 depositions of other witnesses.

The phone firm has indicated that if it is barred from building the 450-foot tower, it will build a 199-foot tower, which the other side has said it would not oppose.

Randy Furst • 612-673-7382

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