News

T-Mobile to add cell service to Grand Portage

Brian Larsen

Cook County commissioners wasted little time approving a contract with T-Mobile to add cell service to the Grand Portage Information Tower. When everything is complete the tower will host AT&T, WTIP, ARMER (emergency radio), T-Mobile and Verizon.

Commissioners took the action at their Tuesday, July 11 meeting.

IT Director Rena Rogers said the addition of T-Mobile not only would give the east end of the county a much-needed boost for cell phone service, but the contract would provide the county with $11,400 annually in new revenue.

T-Mobile will pay the cost for a structural analysis and structural modification of the Grand Portage tower so the tower can handle the added T-Mobile equipment and in the future, equipment for Verizon, which also wants to locate in the farthest east end of the county.

“I think this is great to see some more service in Grand Portage,” said District One Commissioner Bobby Deschampe, who added that he would, in the future, like to see cell coverage expand throughout his district.

Next commissioners approved a lease with Midwest Communications to an existing tower on Lutsen Mountain. Initially, said Rogers, this lease would provide the county with $6,000 in annual revenue plus 25 percent of revenue received from the tower tenants.

Following those requests, Rogers asked commissioners to approve the creation of a Radio Communications Capital Fund, where tower-related revenue would be directed.

For the past three years the request for tower-related capital expenses has been withdrawn due to concerns about the levy. The radio communications budget receives approximately $30,000 annually from tower-related revenue, which offsets the Radio Communications budget but doesn’t cover expansion or upgrades.

The county owns 11 towers and numerous equipment for those towers, but has no capital fund for the maintenance and improvement of these assets, said Rogers.

“Approval of this request is a fiscally responsible step to ensure that we can keep the commitments we are contractually making to our tower tenants. In the future we believe that net revenues will not only be able to cover our capital expenditures but eventually cover all operational costs related to our tower infrastructure services.”

Rogers suggested setting the capital improvements fund at $250,000. Once fully funded, the proceeds from those contracts, suggested Rogers, could go to the general fund, or be used to hire another person to assist Rowan Watkins. Watkins is currently the lone county employee charged with keeping up with licenses, maintenance, and agreements between the cell providers, the county, and the state and federal governments which own much of the land where the towers are located. Two private contractors, Jeff Nemitz and Duane Ege, back up Watkins when he goes on vacation, said Rogers.

“I think there is an opportunity, if we build up enough revenue, of (someday) setting some money aside and self-funding,” a new hire for the department, Rogers said.

Commissioners voted 5-0 to establish a Radio Capital Communications Fund with $ dedicated to it this year.

Motions approved on July 11:

. A special event permit for the 88th Annual Grand Marais Lions Club Fisherman’s Picnic was reviewed and approved. The event requires closure of Wisconsin Street and 1st Avenue, and 2nd Avenue south for five days, from August 2-6. Broadway Avenue and 5th Street (CSAH 7) are also closed for the parade on Sunday.

Under the agreement, the county will provide road closures and traffic control and the Lions will pay all of the costs associated with that service.

. Nesgoda Services LLP was awarded a contract not to exceed $56,580 for cutting and clearing in the Clearwater and Hungry Jack Lake area as part of a hazardous fuel reduction project.

The money to pay for the work will come from the Stevens grant.

All live and dead fir trees less than or equal to five inches dbh (diameter at breast height) and all dead snags of any species less than or equal to five inches dbh will be cut down and disposed of. Balsam fir will be thinned to within 50 feet of lakes and rivers; stumps cut less than three inches in height and the following species must be left alone: paper birch, white pine, red pine, white spruce, black spruce, tamarack, and white cedar, except with specific permission from the county representative. Blown down trees must be limbed, bucked to approximately eight feet in length and laid flat on the ground. The limbs that are five inches or less must be disposed of.

. Following the recommendation of former Cook County Highway Engineer Dave Betts, commissioners approved hiring GoodPointe Technology who will assist in updating the county’s roadway assets (signs, guardrails, and mailboxes).

The most pressing concern, Betts said in a memo to the board, was a comprehensive cataloguing of road signs for reflectivity as required by the Federal Highway regulations.

Cost to collect data for the sign inventory and provide SIGN software/support agreement system training and digital imagery delivery is $77,415.

GoodPointe could also complete a mailbox inventory for non-complying mailboxes for $11,225.

. A Master Partnership Contract (1028598) between the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) and Cook County was renewed. Under the agreement MnDOT will undertake collaborative efforts for the design, construction, maintenance, and operation of state and local roads with the county.

. MSA Professional Services of Duluth was awarded a contract to perform a wetland mitigation as part of the planning and design for CSAH 12 (Gunflint Trail) rehabilitation project between Trout Lake Road and the Greenwood Lake Road for an estimated $7,500.

The highway department is planning to repair the six miles of roadway, which will include replacing culverts as needed, reshaping existing gravel, adding to it as needed and adding a bituminous asphalt surface.

Next, the county board approved a contract for MSA Professional to perform a wetland mitigation for $7,100 between the east and west intersections of County Road 92 (the old Gunflint Trail). Plans are to replace culverts where needed and repair and resurface the Gunflint Trail in this section.

Last, in his memo to the board, Betts recommended commissioners to approve a contract with WSB Professional Services to negotiate right of way acquisition for the Pike Lake Road at an estimated fee of $269,057. LHB Corp was hired to design the project and delineate the right of way and easements for the corridor with a finishing date sometime in the fall of 2018.

The board approved the requests made by Betts.

. Based on the recommendation of the planning commission the commissioners voted unanimously to deny the Larson/Positive Energy Outdoors (PEO) request for a CUP allowing PEO to establish a year-round recreation business on Pike Lake.

The business emphasized water-based seasonal activities for youth and family groups—something commissioners and the planning commission lauded--but the planning commission cited the small size of the parcel, the predominance of wetlands on the property, parking concerns, and an inconsistent business plan presented by PEO as reasons to recommend denying the CUP, which the commissioners followed.


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