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New battle over tower sought near Afton State Park

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HASTINGS, Minn. (AP) — AT&T Inc.'s plan to build a 150-foot-tall cell phone tower near Afton State Park is running into resistance from conservation groups who say it would ruin the view along the St. Croix River.

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It's the latest in a string of disputes over a tower proposed near national or state parks.

AT&T would put a tower on land the company has leased from Afton Alps Recreation Area, according to permit documents reviewed by the Minneapolis Star Tribune (http://bit.ly/piSB3Q ). The land is about a half-mile north of the main entrance to the state park and less than a mile from the St. Croix River.

The company said it's the only site it could find to help eliminate a gap in cell phone coverage. AT&T officials made an exhaustive search of sites that would meet complex zoning requirements and have the least impact on nearby property, company spokesman Alex Carey said.

But the proposal is opposed by several conservation groups. Bill Neumann of the St. Croix Scenic Coalition called the plan an "assault" on one of the most scenic places in Minnesota.

Opponents generally say they don't oppose cell towers, but prefer designs and heights that blend better with the natural surroundings.

The brewing clash follows a number of similar disputes.

A court ruled earlier this month that AT&T couldn't build a 450-foot tower near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, although the company would be allowed to build a tower less than half that height. The Koochiching County Board recently turned down a 350-foot tower 3½ miles from Voyageurs National Park, and a proposed 150-foot tower on private land in Franconia Township, about a mile from the St. Croix, has been in litigation.

AT&T's latest proposal faces two different reviews at the county level, Washington County planner Dennis O'Donnell said.

The county Planning Advisory Commission will hold a public hearing Tuesday on AT&T's request for a conditional-use permit that would allow its construction, and the county Board of Adjustments and Appeals will decide whether to grant the company a variance that would allow construction to proceed.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has suggested a number of alternatives. The DNR says options include not building the tower; placing the communications equipment on an existing structure; building a shorter tower; or disguising the tower.

Ron Carlson, the conservation chairman of the Sierra Club St. Croix Valley Interstate Group, favors the last option. He noted that Washington County built an 88-foot emergency communications tower in Afton in 2009 that looks like a pine tree.

"It can be done," Carlson said. "We know it can be done because we did it in Afton."

___

Information from: Star Tribune, http://www.startribune.com

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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Denton (Denny) Newman Jr.
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