Brockway residents want alternative site for proposed cell tower

BROCKWAY MOUNTAIN – Concerned residents are looking for alternative locations for a proposed cell tower on Brockway Mountain they say would needlessly damage the site.

The proposed 199-foot SBA Network Services antenna would be located on the north side of Brockway Mountain Drive.

The Friends of Brockway Mountain group said the tower would have several adverse effects, including defacing a historic viewscape, interfering with a significant migratory flyway for birds, and damaging public natural areas.

A petition with more than 3,000 signatures opposing the tower was presented to Gov. Rick Snyder during an appearance in Hancock last year.

The group is in the middle of a study of other sites, said group member Gina Nicholas. The main focus has been the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge, which is owned by the county, although other sites being considered include East Bluff, Nicholas said.

The group initially came together after it was unable to get clear information about what alternatives SBA had evaluated.

Engineer Jeff Nelson was willing to do a new study of potential options. Keweenaw County board members were notified of the study and approved. Board Chair Don Piche and Sheriff Ron Lahti have represented the county at meetings.

“One thing we can say is there are alternatives, and now it’s a matter of figuring out what will work best to serve the county,” Nicholas said.

Lahti said the department’s top concern is getting a tower up and running as soon as possible. Despite well-outfitted emergency responders, Lahti said, the area still has “very limited” 911 access, particularly in the woods.

“There’s no doubt if we can get service up there, it’ll save lives,” he said.

“There shouldn’t be a 20 to 30-minute delay for people to get to where they can call 911.”

Based on the coverage maps Lahti has seen, a tower at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge would provide the same quality of service as the Brockway Mountain tower.

“It does a pretty decent job of covering the most populated areas, and the trail areas where most of the accidents would happen,” he said.

The group has had two work sessions at Keweenaw National Historical Park headquarters to discuss the issue. One purpose was to draft a request to the FCC asking it to reopen consultation on the tower.

In the short term, Nicholas said more analysis will need to be done on the East Bluff site; additional detail on cell coverage in remote areas is also necessary. The group should receive more information in a week or two, after which it may hold additional meetings, Nicholas said.

At the meetings, the group also discussed the proposed state House Bill 4237, which would allow emergency state police towers to be used for broader services. However, that’s not the primary option, Nicholas said.

They already have electricity, minimizing the disruption to the landscape, but they would also need upgrades to be repurposed for commercial use.

Last year, the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office found the tower would have an adverse visual impact. SHPO has since signed a memorandum of understanding with SBA on the proposed tower; several local groups, including the Keweenaw National Historical Park and Copper Country Audubon, have written to the FCC opposing the memorandum.

Laura Halpenny, project coordinator for SBA, declined to comment.

For more information and to learn of upcoming meetings, go to facebook.com/BrockwayMountain.