North Branch approves erection of internet towers

Even though it turned out the City of North Branch didn’t have enough time to formally utilize CARES Act money for increasing high speed internet access for its residents, the city is still going full-speed ahead with accomplishing its goals of bringing broadband to as many residents as possible as soon as possible.

During the Nov. 10 City Council Meeting, which was ironically conducted with two of the council members and City Administrator Renae Fry utilizing the internet to attend remotely, the council unanimously approved Conditional Use Permits (CUP) for the construction of two of three towers “to support a fixed wireless internet solution.” The towers will be over 75 feet tall, which is the reason a CUP was required.

According to Fry, three towers will be strategically placed to work in conjunction with four existing towers “for the purpose of deploying a fixed wireless internet solution to bring high speed internet to the outer reaches of our community that currently are not served or so poorly served that the cannot utilize the internet.”

The three proposed towers would be placed at the southwest corner of 412th Street and Flink Avenue (aka site 1), in a park at 5035 366th Street (site 2), and the northeast corner of Lincoln Trail and 367th Street (site 3).

Fry told the council a public hearing was held at the Nov. 2 Planning Commission meeting, where “a number of individuals that spoke in opposition of site 1, and two individuals who had concerns with site 2.” She said nobody voiced their opposition to site 3.

“We also had a number of individuals who testified in favor of the overwhelming need for internet to serve those outer regions of the community,” Fry added. Several of those who were in favor of the project were students who at that time anticipating having to go to distance learning at some time (since that meeting, the school district announced they would in fact be doing that beginning Nov. 30).

Fry said the three sites were chosen based on three criteria: 1. it was public land, 2. there was access to power, and 3. that were adjacent to a fiber source. Fry said the third criteria was the toughest one to meet.

 New City Attorney Christopher Hood recommended to the council to approve the CUPs for sites 2 and 3 only, noting if there was a legal challenge to site 1, the entire project might get delayed.

Fry emphasized to the council that if they chose to do that, residents of the northwest portion of the city will most likely have to wait until spring if an alternative site 1 couldn’t be located in the near future. She said the footings of the towers would have to be poured before the ground froze over, but once the footings were in place, construction could proceed over the winter.

“That’s why this is so urgent,” Fry said. “Mother Nature is a fickle Goddess, and if we cannot get these footings poured, then all construction is halted until next spring, and this much-needed resource is delayed.”

The motion to grant the CUP for sites 2 and 3 only passed unanimously 3-0, with Council Member Joel McPherson not in attendance (either in person or remotely).

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