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Few object to new cell tower

Hubbard County commissioners and Lake Emma Township supervisors held a joint meeting Tuesday to discuss leasing county land for a cellular tower.

Potential developers from St. Cloud Wireless answered questions from officials and a few concerned citizens about the project.

Concerns about the tower included size, location, safety and environmental impact.

St. Cloud Wireless, a Sprint affiliate, is interested in the site because it set a goal of total coverage between Park Rapids and Bemidji, explained site development planner Paul Vershure.

Vershure said the new tower would provide uninterrupted coverage along CSAH 4 from Park Rapids to Lake George.

The tentative lease site is located west of Mantrap Lake along CSAH. 24.

The area is relatively unobtrusive, but the 300-foot tower would be visible on several lakes, including Mantrap, said county coordinator Jack Paul.

County board chairman Cal Johannsen asked if the tower would give increased coverage for multiple cellular companies.

Generally, Vershure said, cellular companies cooperate by agreeing to lease space to others. Engineers designed this tower with space for five carriers and three or four satellite dishes, Vershure added.

St. Cloud Wireless proposes paying the county $350 a month, plus $150 for each additional carrier.

The Hubbard County Sheriff's Office would also receive an elevation to use for federally mandated, digital universal channel capability, which the county must comply with by 2011.

The company selected a guide tower design, consisting of a thinner tower supported by a system of wires to make it less obtrusive, said Vershure.

A couple of Lake Emma Township residents expressed dissatisfaction with the proposed plan.

"I came up here, like many, to see clear skies and the stars at night, not blinking lights," said Mantrap Lake resident Astrid Bortz.

Bortz suggested land in the Paul Bunyan State Forest would be more suitable.

When his company approves a tower area, Vershure explained, he has to find a suitable location within a 1.5-mile radius to obtain optimum coverage.

St. Cloud Wireless originally planned to put the tower on 3M property, but stopped negotiations after several months of inter-office disagreements, Vershure added.

Bortz raised concerns about the effect of a tower on migratory songbirds.

Songbirds use stars to navigate by night, Bortz said. Blinking lights on cellular towers can cause the birds to circle a tower, and collisions with tower guide wires can be fatal.

Before his company can construct the tower, it must first undergo an environmental review, including consideration of songbird migratory patterns, Vershure assured Bortz.

Vershure added, if the site is in the path of migratory songbirds, his company would probably not be able to build it.

Bortz admitted while she didn't want to see the tower reflecting on the lake, getting her preference of a different site would be "a hard battle."

Bortz said, "I understand the need in today's world for faster Internet and cell phones... I don't need them, but other people do."

Commissioner Lyle Robinson said a good communications system will be necessary for future development of the area.

"We have to do what is best for the many and make sure it does not overburden the few," Robinson said.

Several Lake Emma Township supervisors expressed acquiescence to the proposal.

Township chair Rod Westrum said he wished more township residents had come to give input, but "personally, I don't have a problem with it."

Vershure said the tower, if approved, would probably not be constructed until April 2008.