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Duluth councilors anticipate storm over proposed cell tower in Riverside

Fifth District City Councilor Jay Fosle said he'll be spending his weekend knocking on every door in the Riverside neighborhood. While the area is in his district, he's not campaigning for re-election, but wants to determine whether residents wou...

Graphic: Location of proposed cell tower

Fifth District City Councilor Jay Fosle said he'll be spending his weekend knocking on every door in the Riverside neighborhood.

While the area is in his district, he's not campaigning for re-election, but wants to determine whether residents would be opposed to AT&T constructing a 180-foot-tall cell tower along the waterfront.

"We've got to get out in front of this, this time," he said.

Fosle is referring to past cell towers the council has approved only to see residents find out later and oppose the construction. A tower along the North Shore that was approved by the council last year since has been criticized by bird enthusiasts, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for being a potential fatal danger to migrating raptors and waterfowl.

Being a danger to birds isn't something the city has to consider when approving cell towers, said city land use supervisor Cindy Petkac. But Councilor Sharla Gardner said she wouldn't vote to approve the tower until she has a better idea if it's a risk.

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"Clearly that's a standard for our community," she said during a Thursday night council agenda session.

The tower could pose a danger to birds, said Anna Peterson, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Minnesota Duluth who is writing a dissertation on migratory bird patterns from Duluth to Grand Portage. But it's difficult to determine how much of a danger it could be.

"I can say with a high level of certainty that it will kill birds," she said. "I just don't know how many that will be."

Birds do migrate along the St. Louis River corridor, she said, sometimes at a rate of thousands to millions in a short period of time during the migratory periods. Because there's such a high concentration of the birds, Peterson said, it's likely the cell tower will kill a few of them -- and even more during high fog or low cloud level days.

She said a tower with guy wires and lights increases the risk -- something this pole tower isn't likely to have, according to the specifications submitted to the city.

"The tower may not kill birds for years," Peterson said. "But given the right conditions, it could potentially kill lots of birds in one evening."

As to the aesthetics of the pole and whether neighbors object, Petkac said about 15 residents who live near the proposed site were notified and none complained.

But Fosle said he wants the feedback of the entire neighborhood before it's too late, hence the door knocking.

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"The battle has started only after the fact," he said.

Related Topics: ENVIRONMENTRIVERSIDE
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