A push to install a first-ever cellphone tower in Marine on St. Croix has the support of telecommuters and others who say they’re tired of spotty service and missed calls.
What if someone crashes on Hwy. 95 and needs help? What if someone wants to reach their kids? What if company is coming and you don’t know who’s bringing the hot dish?
Their complaints, however, have fallen on the deaf ears of some longtime locals who say the proposed 180-foot tower would forever change Marine’s identity as a river outpost that wants to hold fast to its village roots.
“Do we need to be a community where everyone has their face in their phone walking down the street, instead of talking to their neighbors?” said Dan Willenbring, a former City Council member.
The case for the tower was made last week at a City Council meeting by a committee of residents who considered proposals from two construction companies. Committee member Paul Anderson said the city should pick one of the companies and build a tower for reasons of public safety, commerce and quality of life.
“I appreciate the quiet and slow,” he said, nodding to Marine’s character. But Anderson, who lives in a part of the village that gets poor cell reception if any, said reliable service is necessary.
Willenbring said he understands the need for better phone service, but wondered if there isn’t a way to boost signals without erecting a 180-foot tower next to William O’Brien State Park.
The City Council passed along the committee’s recommendations to the Planning Commission, which could grant a variance to permit the 180-foot tower.
A public hearing will be scheduled for everyone to make their case.
Tucked along the St. Croix River far from the metro area’s urban core, Marine long has been known for its throwback feel.
It lacks stop lights, has a general store built in 1870 and a village hall that ranks as the oldest in the state still in use.
The city’s proximity to the St. Croix means that a portion of the village falls under National Park Service view shed guidelines.
The cell tower’s proposed location, however, falls outside the scenic easement, said Julie Galonska, superintendent of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway.
The preferred site for the tower is on city-owned property adjacent to O’Brien State Park, west of Hwy. 95.
The tower would not be visible from the river, Anderson said.
Tower supporters say it would enhance emergency services by making it easier for locals to call for help.
Firefighters and police officers could quickly locate the caller with geolocation, said Council Member Charlie Anderson.
“Highway 95 is notorious,” he said. “We’ve had multiple instances of emergencies where you can’t get a call out.”
Reliable cellular coverage would allow web surfing on your phone or Skype to connect face-to-face, he said.
A single tower built to 180 feet would allow for the placement of up to four carriers, Paul Anderson told the City Council.
Some other sites that were considered, including a church steeple and the former Marine elementary school, weren’t ideal because they didn’t provide a good signal or were too close to homes.
The question of a cellular tower was considered years ago by Marine officials, who feared a too-tall tower might alter the village’s scenery.
A city ordinance prohibits the construction of any cell tower taller than 45 feet, or 15 feet above the tallest building or tree canopy within 300 feet of the tower’s location.
That restriction amounts to a de facto ban, Paul Anderson said.
Juli Hagstrom, said she worries about the tower’s impact on O’Brien State Park. “It seems to me the environmental cost is way too much to pay,” said Hagstrom, who owns property adjacent to the proposed site but lives in Stillwater.
But when Hagstrom asked on a local Facebook page if the tower was necessary, numerous responses made it clear that — on social media at least — support for it runs high.
“There is no cellphone tower going up right now,” said Paul Anderson. “It’s just the beginning.”