Commissioners consider power to Hovland tower

The Cook County commissioners’ room was full of people on July 10, 2012 during an extended conversation on how to power a communications tower on state land at the end of Tower Road in Hovland.  The State of Minnesota has agreed to pay for power lines to be brought to the tower as it gears up its Allied Radio Matrix for Emergency Response (ARMER) communications system, which will create a common communication vehicle for a host of governmental agencies.  The system will enable better coordination during emergencies and disasters.  Getting easements across private property has become an issue, however.
Sheriff Mark Falk told the commissioners that having power to the site is important for public safety, including Hovland First Responders, the Hovland Fire Department, the Cook County Emergency Management System, and ARMER. 
The tower is currently powered by batteries that are charged by a solar panel array and a generator.
If electrical lines were brought to the tower, fiber optic broadband lines would be, too, and Hovland could be connected to the communication system used by the Cook County Law Enforcement Center throughout the rest of the county.  If power were not brought to the tower, the state would put a propane-fueled generator there, County Attorney Tim Scannell said.
“Our paging in Hovland is problematic at best,” said John Barton of the Hovland Fire Department.  He said they suffer outages that affect the ability to page people several times a year.  “To us, it’s intolerable,” he said.  “It’s really, really important for us to get this taken care of.” 
The entity needing easements is Arrowhead Electric Cooperative Inc. (AECI), which sent out “boiler plate” easement documents that give them as much as 40 feet of leeway and do not specify exactly where the line would go. 
Joe Buttweiler, Arrowhead Electric’s director of member services, said that AECI really only needed about 15 feet of clearance but would need to reserve the right to go wider to avoid the cost of blasting “rocks the size of a Volkswagen” they might encounter along the route.
Commissioner Jan Hall asked if Arrowhead Electric would be willing to modify the language of the proposed easement.  Buttweiler said this is how they word all their easements and any changes would need to be approved by the AECI board.
The proposed electric line would follow Tower Road.  Property owner Mary Manning said no one is quite sure whose land the road is on.  The road is an unmaintained Minnesota Department of Natural Resources forestry road that the homeowners take care of themselves except for occasional maintenance such as cleaning out culverts.
Property owner Mark Adams said the power company’s “imperial” methods resulted in the issue going to the county board.  Adams said he wanted to have the route defined ahead of time and assurance that the road would be left in good condition when the work was done.
Several property owners said they had lived there for many years and had no need for electricity. 
Cook County Surveyor Wayne Hensche recommended doing a survey of the area to delineate exactly whose property the road is on. In light of how much easements can cost, he said, the cost of his survey (about $5,700 to $12,400 depending on how much delineation was done) would not be significant.
Joe Buttweiler said the county and the state had asked Arrowhead Electric to install the line, and when they sensed objections from property owners, they quit pursuing the idea. 
Commissioner Sue Hakes said she saw this opportunity to get power to the tower on the state’s dime as a “windfall.”  She said she thought it would be reasonable to pay $12,000 for survey work and to make sure the road was restored in good condition.  “Everybody’s got to have a little skin in the game,” she said.
Commissioner Jan Hall said she thought the county should do whatever it takes to facilitate the easements.
The board unanimously passed a motion authorizing Wayne Hensche to survey the road with the understanding that Arrowhead Electric would flag the route before the survey is done and that the county would work with property owners to come up with an easement they would sign even if it meant some compensation would be paid to the property owners.