Writer and activist Sigurd F. Olson, who helped draft the bipartisan Wilderness Act of 1964 and was instrumental in the protection of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota, wrote: “Wilderness to the people of America is a spiritual necessity, an antidote to the high pressure of modern life, a means of regaining serenity and equilibrium.”
More than a million acres in size, with more than 1,000 lakes and 1,500 miles of canoe routes, the Boundary Waters definitely provides an antidote to the high pressures of modern life. In fact, more than 250,000 Americans annually head into the Boundary Waters to regain serenity and equilibrium.
Just imagine yourself canoeing and portaging through this wild country, perhaps catching a trout or two for dinner, setting up camp on a beautiful remote lake, gazing at a brilliant night sky of stars, listening to the haunting calls of loons, maybe being lucky enough to witness a spectacular display of northern lights, and you look out across the lake towards the horizon and see . . . the bright, obnoxious blinking red lights of a cell phone tower above the tree tops.
Yes, that’s right -- A cell phone tower.
AT&T plans to build a 450-foot cell phone tower on the edge of the Boundary
Waters, which would permanently mar the wild horizon of at least 10 wilderness lakes . Last year, a nonprofit group called Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness received a favorable ruling from a district court to stop construction of the tower, stating that it “violated the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act because it would have a material impact on the scenic and esthetic resources of the protected wilderness of the Boundary Waters.” But AT&T took the case to the Minnesota Court of Appeals which overturned the district court ruling. On August 21, the Minnesota Supreme Court denied a request from the Friends of the Boundary Waters that the Court review the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruling. In other words: AT&T has been giving the go ahead to build its tower.
And here’s the saddest part about it: The tower is not even needed.
Here are some facts laid out in the district court ruling that AT&T does not deny nor challenge:
• The 450-foot tower’s additional coverage would not extend to areas accessed by local residents or Boundary Water visitors. Compared to a now existing 199-foot tower, AT&T’s 450-foot tower would provide additional coverage in uninhabited roadless areas that are either wooded or swamps.
• The 450-foot tower would not provide more coverage to area residents than the 199-foot tower currently provides. The 199-foot tower provides the same coverage for area residents compared to the 450-foot tower.
• The 450-foot tower will not provide more coverage to the Boundary Waters compared to the 199-foot tower. The district court found both the 199-foot and the 450-foot tower leave “the vast majority of the Boundary Waters without cell coverage, with only a marginal difference between the two.”
• Two 199-foot towers provide superior service to the single 450-foot tower. A two-tower alternative, which the Friends of the Boundary Waters has supported since the beginning, would provide “approximately 100.6% of the coverage of the single 450-foot tower,” according to the district court.
So why would AT&T persist with their obnoxious, intrusive, obstructive plans to build a 450-tower that will tarnish wilderness values? And why aren’t Americans in an uproar about it? Have Americans become so complacent, so obsessed with technology, so detached from wild nature that they just don’t give a damn anymore?
Surveys suggest otherwise. Public opinion polls conducted by commercial firms, the media and the federal government consistently find that about 90 percent of Americans treasure the heritage of wilderness on their public lands. And it’s not just the domain of “liberal tree-huggers.” Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and George Bush all expanded the wilderness system. Ronald Reagan signed more wilderness protection laws than any other president. Wilderness still receives overwhelming bipartisan support, just as it did when the Wilderness Act was signed into law.
So why let AT&T get away with this? The simple answer: We shouldn’t! It’s time to call on AT&T and demand they do the right thing—to go with less obtrusive options, protect wilderness values, and not build the 450-foot tower near the Boundary Waters.