COPPER HARBOR - Less than two weeks remain for giving feedback on a plan to mitigate the effects of a cell phone tower proposed for Brockway Mountain.
The 199-foot tower being proposed by SBA Network Services would be located on the north side of Brockway Mountain Drive. It has been the subject of vocal opposition since it was announced, with some saying it's the best option for bringing cell service to the northern Keweenaw and others saying less visible methods need to be pursued.
A meeting last week in Copper Harbor on mitigation measures drew about 80 people, nearly all of whom were opposed to the current tower plan, said Bill Marlor, one of the creators of a petition protesting the tower plan.
The mitigation hearing was required after the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office found the tower would create an adverse visual impact on Brockway Mountain.
"The tower sticking above the nose of Brockway, it's just not something attractive or palatable," Marlor said.
Marlor said almost everyone at the meeting supported bringing cell service to the area. However, he said, they advanced several alternatives that could potentially accomplish the task with less disturbance to the area's aesthetic qualities.
One idea was to utilize an existing Michigan State Police tower. While those have been off-limits to private use, there is legislation pending in the Michigan legislature that would reverse that. At a Keweenaw County Board of Commissioners meeting last year where the idea was brought up, Commissioner Del Rajala said radio signals from the MSP tower would not reach Copper Harbor.
Other ideas proposed at the meeting include tying into an existing cell tower through fiberoptic cables, or using a network of smaller cell towers disguised as trees.
"They may need to spend more money, but everybody there was saying, 'Let's do it right,'" Marlor said.
Marlor said there had been no indication of what would be done with the comments from the meeting.
Laura Halpenny, project coordinator for SBA, declined to comment for the article.
Mike Ursin, project manager with Ramaker & Associates, the consulting firm that moderated last week's meeting, could not be reached for comment.
In a photo simulation last year, Ramaker took photos from east and west points on Brockway Mountain Drive, the Copper Harbor Lighthouse and the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge, the four locations requested by SHPO. The review found the tower would either not be visible or have a minimal visual impact.
However, Marlor, also a civil engineer, questioned several elements of Ramaker's findings, including its use of the maximum tree height in an area as opposed to the most common height, as well as the lack of other prominent vantage points from which the tower would be more visible.
Another area of concern is the tower's affect on bird migration. Each spring, around 20,000 raptors pass over Brockway Mountain, making it a popular destination for birdwatchers.
Dana Richter of the Copper Country Audubon Society said the consultants had said the service area would not cover the entire tip of the Keweenaw. There is also a possibility of some bird mortality from the new tower. However, he said, since the tower would be freestanding instead of having guide wires, the number of deaths would be low.
More pressing, he said, is the effect the new tower could have on sight lines for birdwatchers. From March to June, he said, 5,000 people visit Brockway Mountain; numbers for the full year would be significantly higher.
"I think primarily the important thing is that historically it's been recognized as a bird-watchers' paradise for many years, since the 1930s," he said. "And a tower up there would detract from that."
Written comments on the proposed mitigation action or to suggest alternatives will be accepted until the close of business on June 10. They can be sent to Ramaker & Associates, Inc., contractor for SBA, 1120 Dallas St., Sauk City, WI, 53583 or e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.