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Posted: 05/15/13

Bruce officials begin
process for Internet tower

by CHRIS GRAY
Observer Staff Writer
      Internet coverage for the majority of Bruce Township could be a reality with the proposed installation of a 195-foot tower on township property.
       The Board of Trustees voted 5-0 on May 6 to apply for a Special Land Use (SLU) request for township property to install a tower for Internet services. The board also voted in favor of having Supervisor Richard Cory and Treasurer Deborah Obrecht work on a potential lease with Solvaris and the farm that is leasing property where the tower could be located.
       The request will go before the Planning Commission at its May 29 meeting, where the commission will recommend approval or denial of the request.
       Matt Lauer, resident and owner of the Internet solutions company Solvaris, previously proposed a tower on his property on Windy Knoll Lane to upgrade his Internet connection. The tower would also provide Internet to the surrounding area for a fee.
       The Planning Commission voted in April to recommend denial of the SLU, and Lauer withdrew it. Instead, he came back with a new proposal that would utilize township property to grant wireless coverage for a greater area by partnering with Michigan-based company 123.net.
       "Five years ago the technology we're using didn't exist, it's what allowed us to even come up with a project that is cost feasible," he said.
       The proposal calls for a new 195-foot tower, utilizing the township's 150-foot tower and installing up to five smaller towers of varying size throughout the area. He said they are trying to minimize the number of new towers by looking at existing structures such as water towers, silos or even rooftops to install repeaters that send out the main signal.
       Reese Serra, an attorney representing 123.net, said there were three possible locations for the tower. The top choice would be east of Hipp Road and south of 36 Mile Road, which is considered a central location in the township.
       Clerk Susan Brockmann said the SLU will go through the Planning Commission first. It may be addressed by the Zoning Board of Appeals as well before the board votes on it.
       "We do take the recommendations very seriously, and we then vote on it," Brockmann said.
       Obrecht said she was optimistic that the venture would bring the township into the 21st century. She said she would rather see one taller tower than multiple, smaller towers.
       "We are still lacking reasonable access to high-speed Internet in the northeast and the northwest quadrants of the township," Obrecht said.
       Trustee Paul Okoniewski called the situation a "catch 22," saying everyone wants Internet access but doesn't want a tower in their backyard. He said Bruce Township is only about 60 percent covered for high-speed Internet, and that the proposal is a way to provide 90 percent coverage using township property.
       "We have to look at what's a benefit to the township and the people both without interfering with the rural atmosphere," he said.
       Following the meeting. officials agreed the tower could be stored on the site to await construction while the proposal and lease are negotiated.
      
       A towering issue
       Lauer said the proposal would assist with Romeo Community Schools as it gears up to give personal devices to all students through its technology bond. Lauer said the tentative service plan fee is $39.95 a month for 1 megabit per second.
       Romeo Superintendent Nancy Campbell said in addition to preparing students with 21st century skills, Internet access would provide equity of access for learning.
       "Your affirmative vote can mean a difference of an equal playing field for the students in Bruce Township as they compare themselves to students who live in other parts of our district," she said.
       Board of Education Treasurer Chris Giancarli said the proposal could add value to the township by addressing Internet service issues and improving education.
       "The reality is . . . the majority of residents being serviced in that area, it's an overall win from a school district perspective, from a property value perspective," he said.
       Residents largely spoke against the proposal. Andy Meinhard, who lives near the proposed tower site, said he said he would be against the proposal if the tower would be in his backyard or within eyesight of his home, and suggested other options be considered.
       "There is a lot of questions that we as neighbors in the area want to know before we hear that there is going to be a `yes' or `no' vote on something," he said.
       Annette McKinney said she wondered if the school was putting pressure on the township when the technology bond wasn't a point made for the previous request. She also asked if the township considered companies like AT&T for Internet.
       "What I'm afraid of is, and you've stated it, that the big tower goes up and now we have several little towers going up," she said.
       Brockmann said she meets with AT&T representatives, and though the company is installing infrastructure along Van Dyke, the project is still three to five years out from completion.
       Questions or concerns can be submitted to the Planning Commission prior to the May meeting.


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