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Tempers flare at Keweenaw County meeting

Board wants cell tower issue put to rest

February 16, 2012
By STACEY KUKKONEN - DMG writer ( , The Daily Mining Gazette

EAGLE RIVER - A group of citizens still has concerns about the new cell tower on Brockway Mountain, but the Keweenaw County Board of Commissioners does not want any more public comment on the issue.

About a dozen individuals attended the Keweenaw County Commissioners regular meeting Wednesday evening in Eagle River to address concerns over the location of the cell tower. In December, the Zoning Board of Appeals voted in favor of putting the tower on the summit and since then, a petition has circulated asking those who are opposed to sign. The petition has garnered more than 3,000 signatures from people all across the Upper Peninsula and the world.

However, when Alex Protzel asked the board to speak during public comment Wednesday, he was immediately turned down by the board.

Article Photos

Stacey Kukkonen/Daily Mining Gazette
The Keweenaw County Board of Commissioners discuss public comment at its regular meeting Wednesday evening in Eagle River.

"What would your public comment be about?" Chair Ernest Mooney asked Protzel.

When Protzel said he wanted to talk about the proposed cell phone tower on Brockway Mountain, and said he had new information to share with the commissioners, Mooney said they had heard enough.

"Let me tell you what's going to happen," Mooney said. "I think that this board has a responsibility when we have issues before this board to give everyone who is interested an opportunity to express their opinion whether for or against. And I think that has taken place. ... Now this issue is not before this board. This issue is a closed issue. It's been decided. So I do not feel this board has any obligation whatsoever to provide a forum for people who just want to comment on this to do so and express their views."

Mooney compared the comments about the cell tower to a politician making a campaign speech the week after the campaign is over. Mooney said comments will no longer be accepted on the tower issue and suggested those with concerns should do so on the federal level.

"My comments were not allowed because of the reasons you gave," Protzel, a Copper Harbor property owner said. "I was not allowed to make a public comment."

Mooney said the issue has been closed and decided, so further comments would not have an impact.

"I think the issue we're concerned about is there is additional information, new information that's available today that wasn't when those decisions were made," said Copper Harbor property owner Phoebe Wienke.

Mooney said resolutions to problems come from people working together and said nothing is ever accomplished by people taking one adversarial side of one issue or another. Mooney said the board is open to taking suggestions about an alternate plan to provide cell service to people of Keweenaw County that is cost-effective.

"We're not interested in people just making their statements about how many birds are going to die," he said. "We've heard it all before. Everyone has had their opportunity to make their comments."

Mooney ended his comments with the bang of his gavel and the party interested in making comments turned to leave.

Tom Liljegren of Allouez asked to make a public comment concerning the individuals leaving the room.

"The discourtesy of those who are leaving simply because their issue ... if they paid more attention to what the county is doing, they would be at meetings every time like some of us are," he said.

Peggy Kauppi, who owns a Copper Harbor business open during evening hours, said she comes to as many meetings as she is able.

"I'm not discourteous," she said.

According to the Open Meeting Act 267 of 1976, "a person shall be permitted to address a meeting of a public body under rules established and recorded by the public body. The legislature or a house of the legislature may provide by rule that the right to address may be limited to prescribed times at hearings and committee meetings only." The agenda for the Keweenaw County Board of Commissioners allows for two sections of public comment at no more than three minutes per individual.

There is nothing specific about public comment in the commission's bylaws. Per the county's rights of public address, as followed by the county from the "Guide to Michigan County Government," the public has a right to address the county board. This right, though, is more limited than the right to attend meetings and "the board or committee and its chairperson may not make up the rules as the meeting goes along." The board may determine when and for how long a person may speak and the rules must be officially adopted and recorded.

In an interview this morning, Protzel said he wanted to tell the commissioners about alternative locations that could be investigated.

Protzel said he became aware the tower will most likely require approximately 2 miles of utility poles to provide power. That prospect of having a string of utility poles crisscrossing Brockway is unacceptable, he said.

"This issue was covered briefly at the Dec. 20, 2011, planning commission meeting," he said. "It was raised and the tower company (representative) declined to answer, and the planning commission declined to pursue it. I was there and I said, 'This is real important, because if this tower goes up, we can't ignore it.'"



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