Giant Lake vs. Telephone Giant

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Mobile TowerToday was the first of a five day trial between Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness and AT&T Mobility over the mobile phone company’s plan to erect a phone tower a couple miles outside of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

What’s the fight really about?

Well, beauty and commerce.  The Friends want to preserve the picturesque boundary waters, and argue that the tower will ruin the view.  Their argument has some merit.  The proposed tower will loom 600 feet above the surrounding landscape, and will be illuminated day and night by  strobe and beacon lights.  The Friends’ main concern is that it will be visible from within the Boundary Waters.  There is no doubt that folks looking for a week of solitude do not want a constant reminder of civilization.

AT&T, on the other hand, is motivated by commerce.  But, also by public safety.  AT&T has argued that the tower will allow lake users and residents east of Ely the ability to call for help.  AT&T has also argued that the planned 450 foot tower (which reaches 600 feet because its on a ridge) is better than the alternatives, which include two smaller towers. AT&T’s argument is backed by Lake County officials, who are said to support the tower.

The case turns on whether the tower would violate Minnesota’s Environmental Rights Act.

Is this a David v. Goliath battle?

Not really.  Although Friends is a non-profit group, they are represented by Robins Kaplan Miller & Cerisi, one of Minnesota’s largest law firms.

Hennepin County Judge Philip Bush is presiding over this battle. Judge Bush has been on the Hennepin County bench since 1989.

Who is winning?

No idea, although in my view, Friends has done a bang up job in two respects.

First, they got this case to trial inside of a year.  The complaint was filed in June 2010, and in between the court heard Friends’ motion for a temporary injunction.  Under a year is pretty good these days.

Second, they are killing AT&T in the PR war.  In fact, a google search netted me not a single direct statement by AT&T.  Meanwhile, Friends’ website hits the top of page one. Its like AT&T went dark.  Which is what I’ve been hearing about its cell phone service for years.

Photo by Arvind Balarama.