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Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Breaks Ground on New Cell Phone Tower

Ryan Juntti
Updated: May 29, 2019 11:52 PM

When we travel we all want to make sure we stay safe, and a big part of that is making sure we receive help in case of an emergency. Unfortunately that wasn't the case for a Wisconsin family last summer whose kayaking trip near the Apostle Islands turned deadly.

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But on Wednesday, the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa took the first steps to make sure a tragedy like that never happens again.

For the past 15 years, the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa has been trying to build a cell phone tower. On Wednesday, that project officially kicked off.

Lake Superior claimed the lives of a father and three children when their kayak capsized near the Apostle Islands last summer. 

The mother and wife had tried to text for help, but it took four and a half hours for the message to go through. 

"We're not going to have these strange circumstances that come up to where no one knows what's going on," said Frank Koehn, a Red Cliff Ambulance EMT.

That's because on Wednesday, a groundbreaking was held for a new cell phone tower on the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa reservation.

"The safety of the membership, the people who come through here as tourists, as well as those who are yet to be born out to the seventh generation is the concern of the tribe," said Theron Rutyna, Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa IT Director.

The 300 foot tower is being constructed a mile off of Highway 13, and 3 miles north of Bayfield where a water tower used to be. 

Officials say the biggest impact will be felt with first responders and their ability to communicate.

"It'll take an awful lot of pressure off people who are responding because one, they know we're probably going to have clearer communication, and two, having the tower here it's so much easier than trying to work off another tower," said Koehn.

With the tower, coverage is expected to jump from 20 percent to 80 percent in populated areas. And during an emergency, that could make the difference between life and death. 

"Is it going to save lives? Definitely. Is it going to save some pain? Definitely. Is it going to lower everyone's anxiety? Absolutely," said Koehn. 

So hopefully tragic incidents like the one last summer are a thing of the past.

The tower will cover all of the reservation, parts of the town of Russell, the town of Bayfield, parts of the Apostle Islands north and east of the reservation, and parts of both Madeline and Michigan islands.

It is being constructed by AT&T as part of the First Responders Network Authority (FirstNet).

Rutyna says the tower should be up by October.

Credits

Ryan Juntti

Copyright 2019 WDIO-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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