A judge ruled Wednesday that AT&T can build a cell phone tower near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The approved tower, at 199-feet, is less than the 450-foot tower the company was initially seeking.
Hennepin County District Judge Philip Bush allowed the smaller tower. The tower, reports the Star Tribune, will be “unseen from inside the federal wilderness, would provide similar cell phone coverage and provide for public safety without spoiling the scenic view.”
The decision pleases the environmental group Friends of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. That’s the group that sued to get a smaller tower built.
Proponents of the tower highlighted the economic benefits of improved telecommunications in the Iron Range. They also cited additional safety for those lumbering tourists searching for the next portage.
While extending cell service into a wilderness area could have benefits, Bush reasoned, there’s no case law or finding that it’s a national need.
Boundary Waters visitors are instructed by the U.S. Forest Service not to rely on cellphones in emergencies and that satellite phones are available. According to Forest Service statistics, there are about 16 emergency incidents annually among 250,000 visitors in the 1.1-million-acre BWCA.