Tofte communications tower gets county board's approval

Hurdles to building a 190-foot communications tower in Tofte were cleared when both the Cook County Planning Commission and then the Board of Adjustment approved the township’s request for a variance for a 1,000-foot setback and a conditional use permit at a special meeting held September 25, 2013 in the Cook County Commissioners room. Today, October 8, the county board also gave its approval.

Fearing that a cell phone tower would hurt property values and diminish the rugged beauty of the area, several people spoke in opposition. Two who were opposed have homes within the 1,000-foot setback, one expressed fear that by building a large tower near their homes, their property could be harder to sell and their personal use of the property would be diminished because of viewing the tower from their windows.

Tofte Rescue Squad Chief Louise Trachta said the new tower would give her volunteers a lot more ability to communicate over far greater distances than is now possible, and communication with Lutsen and Schroeder fire departments and rescue squads, the Cook County Sheriff’s Department, the U.S. Forest Service and other emergency responders would be greatly enhanced because of the tower.

A property owner asked why other sites outside of downtown Tofte hadn’t been explored, and Shane Begley, a site location expert with Begley Wireless Consulting Service, said engineers had given him a ¼-mile area in which to place the new tower.  He also said any new tower would have to be in the line of sight with the tower built in Schroeder so that there wouldn’t be any “dead spots” for cell phone users.

 Rick Adams, an engineer with, agreed with Begley that towers had to be in a line of sight to provide good coverage. He also noted the rugged terrain and tall trees in this area block signals. “Here two miles is like 200 hundred miles in other places,” said Adams.

Tofte Supervisor Jim King cited the value to local residence, tourists, local businesses, as well as to emergency services workers as main reasons to building the tower.

Two Planning Commission members, Tofte supervisor D.C. Olson and Tofte resident Jerry Gervais recused themselves when it came time for the Planning Commission to vote. The vote to approve the tower passed unanimously.

Olson also sits on the Board of Adjustment and he again recused himself to avoid any possible conflict of interest charges. The vote again passed unanimously with Jerry Hiniker saying that while some would be offended, some inconvenienced, the needs and comforts of the many should supersede the loss of aesthetics to a few. “I can’t see denying coverage. It’s absolutely essential in an emergency to have this,” Hiniker said.

The Cook County Board of Commissioners voted unamimously to adopt the Planning Commission's recommendation.