MENOMINEE — The best potential location for a 911 communications tower may be at the Back Forty Mine site.

Bryon Gunnerson, with Gunnerson Consulting & Communication Site Services LLC (GCCSS), gave a presentation at the Menominee County Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday on the county’s options regarding this matter.

This is part of an ongoing project that Menominee County has undergone to increase 911 radio communication coverage in the northern end of the county and to fill any coverage gaps.

Gunnerson explained that he had researched several areas in Lake Township because radio coverage in that area is not as strong as it should be. The most convenient location to build a new tower would be at Shakey Lakes because the county already owns the property. However, he also looked into some farms, private property and reached out to Aquila Resources at the Back Forty Mine project.

“They’re all generically the same until you get to the Back Forty Mine,” he said.

Gunnerson explained that he believes Aquila is already planning to build a radio tower on its property and will likely partner with Northern Michigan University and some cell companies to bring broadband to the area.

GCCSS received a letter of interest from Aquila Resources to put up a temporary structure for Menominee County that will stand about 80 feet tall until a permanent structure is built. Aquila requested that GCCSS help them with the project, but Gunnerson said he would not go forward with any projects with Aquila Resources if Menominee County does not approve.

When conducting his research on the surrounding area, Gunnerson said he was looking into tree coverage and elevation as potential factors that could impact coverage.

A tower at the Back Forty Mine would have almost double the coverage area of a tower located anywhere else in the area. The second-best option would be a hill on a farm owned by Mark Nordin, in Lake Township; however, Gunnerson said Nordin was not interested in such a project on his own property.

A tower at Shakey Lakes would not have nearly as much coverage area, but it would be on county property making the location convenient for building.

He explained that the Back Forty Mine property can legally have a tower, even if the mining permits fall through.

“This is the ultimate location for cellular carriers because there’s virtually no coverage there as well,” Gunnerson said. “They have a reason to build this outside whether you put 911 on it or not.

“Northern Michigan University absolutely wants to be on this tower.”

GCCSS has been working with NMU at other locations to help the university expand broadband coverage across the Upper Peninsula.

“It’s very likely they’ll (Aquila Resources) will be ready in the springtime to build a 180-foot tower,” Gunnerson said.

Gunnerson said he is not entirely certain that Aquila Resources will build a tower without an agreement with Menominee County, but he assumes that is the plan.

County Administrator Jason Carviou said: “This is obviously the best option to go with, from a county standpoint, for 911 coverage.

“No other option would give us the same coverage as the Back Forty tower could potentially give you. I understand where a hesitancy would come from, being associated with the mine but we are weighing our emergency 911 communications into that as well. I think you need to do what’s best for the county in that regard. I think it is clear being on that tower is the best option for our 911 communications.”

Carviou explained that some lease terms have been discussed between GCCSS and Aquila Resources, but a physical lease had not been written up or signed.

A presentation from Gunnerson stated that it is not expected Aquila Resources to charge the county rent if it chooses to put its 911 communication equipment on the tower. He also said that if Menominee County entered an agreement early they could negotiate to be at the top of the tower, which has the least amount of interference.

“This county board needs to make a decision because if we say ‘yes we want to put our stuff on there’ and everything starts moving forward and we change our minds, that will cause some issues down the line,” Carviou said. “We need to make this decision soon so we can get it in our RFP (request for proposal) for the infrastructure.”

“I think there would be a great sensitivity to it (the project),” Commissioner Gerald Piche said, because of the controversial subject and opposition of the Back Forty Mine. Gunnerson said he knew about the opposition to the mine but was not educated on the “details” of the subject.

“I don’t want to drag Menominee County into anything, and we can certainly hold off until the mine has been approved,” Gunnerson said. “But, even after it’s fully approved, the controversy will still likely exist.”

Piche said he would prefer to look at other locations “so at least the county board can justify why it picked this site. I think it’s important that we satisfy all of Menominee County.”

Another option would be to build a tower at Shakey Lakes and move it to the Back Forty Mine site later. Gunnerson said if the county does not commit to being on the Back Forty tower now, it might not get the top spot on the tower. It would also be a more expensive option.

Commissioner David Prestin said he is in favor of utilizing a tower built by Aquila Resources.

“We have an entity that is willing to construct a brand new infrastructure, with a significant lifetime and a lease, the county will basically have no skin in the game and it will give us way more coverage than any alternative that is available right now,” he said. “The problems with the public and the mine need to be set aside when it comes to the welfare of the public, the continuity of the 911 system, and I would encourage everyone to do what’s best for the residents of Menominee County and not make this decision against Back Forty or Aquila. I think it would be disingenuous and we would not be fulfilling our obligations.”

“I think it would be foolish to not take them up on this option,” Commissioner Larry Johnson Jr. said.

Commissioner Larry Schei mentioned that the previous county board had passed a resolution against the mine. “Is there any political implications with doing this?” he asked

“Whether something will look unfavorably on your actions, this is the season of disagreeing,” Gunnerson said. He explained that he did not believe there would be any legal ramifications for making a deal with Aquila Resources, however.

Commissioner Larry Phelps said he believes that since Aquila Resources is willing to work with the county on this project, he does not believe they would hold any animosity for the resolution.

He said it would be a good idea to take time on the decision to ensure everyone has a “good, clear head.”

“It’s a difficult decision but you’re pitting the well-being of 911 against something that’s really not related to it,” Carviou said. “I think you can separate the tower from the mine and right now, I think it really is the best location.”

Prestin moved to make the discussion item on the topic an action item to be voted on Tuesday. In order for a discussion item to be changed into an action item during a meeting, it must pass a unanimous vote.

The motion failed 5-4.

Five commissioners voted in favor of making it an action item to be voted on Tuesday and four voted against it. Commissioners Steve Gromala, Bill Cech, Piche and Schei voted against making the item an action item.

However, a work order to allow GCCSS to continue with the project will be on the agenda as an action item at the Oct. 27 meeting.