communications tower

A new communications tower on a ridge just west of the Sawtooth Hatchery will be almost twice as tall as an existing tower near the site, pictured here.

Despite widespread local opposition, the Idaho Department of Lands is proceeding with a lease of land to AT&T to build a 195-foot-tall communication tower near Redfish Lake in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area.

“The lease has been provided to the lessee,” department spokeswoman Sharla Arledge told the Mountain Express in an email Wednesday. “IDL is awaiting signature as well as required documentation (construction drawings). Once we receive it and it is reviewed to verify accuracy, the lease will be executed by the state.”

However, the Idaho Conservation League and several other groups have requested a hearing on the matter during the Idaho Land Board’s Nov. 17 meeting. The Land Board is composed of Gov. Brad Little, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, Secretary of State Lawerence Denney, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherry Ybarra and State Controller Brandon Woolf.

Asked how a decision is made on whether the request for a hearing will be granted, Arledge said only that the ICL’s request is “under legal review.”

Under the Idaho Administrative Procedure Act, all parties at a hearing shall be given the opportunity to present evidence and argument on all issues involved, and nonparties may be given an opportunity to present oral or written statements.

The tower would be part of the First Responder Network, known as FirstNet, for law-enforcement, fire and emergency medical-personnel communications. According to AT&T, it would also provide coverage for regular cell phone users.

The tower would be built on a ridge just west of the Sawtooth Hatchery in the Sawtooth Valley, 10 miles south of Stanley.

The Department of Lands has said the proposal is for a 20-year lease of about one acre of Endowment Trust Land at $29,851 per year for the first year, increasing annually by 3 percent, with revenue going to support Idaho’s public schools. Endowment Trust Land was granted to states by the federal government at statehood. The Idaho Constitution mandates that those lands be managed to secure maximum long-term financial return.

Comments opposing the tower have been submitted to the department by the Custer County commissioners, the Sawtooth Society, the Sawtooth Interpretive & Historical Association and the Custer Telephone Cooperative.

“The city of Stanley, and all Idahoans, benefit from the protections of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, and as we face more and more development pressure it’s important that we maintain and safeguard the area’s majestic views and dark skies,” Stanley Mayor Steve Botti said in a press release from the ICL this week. “It’s unfortunate that the Land Board and IDL have refused to cooperate with neighbors and stakeholders who would be most impacted by this lease.”

ICL said that it and its partners “seek to ensure the Land Board is fully informed about potential impacts of the proposed lease and alternatives, and to avoid possible litigation that may result if the proposed IDL lease is approved in its current form.”

“We filed for a contested hearing because the Sawtooth Valley is a special place, not just for Idahoans, but also for those who travel far and wide to take in the majesty of the Sawtooths,” ICL External Relations Director Jonathan Oppenheimer said in the release. “Gov. Little spoke recently about the importance of collaboration on land issues, and we encourage members of the Land Board to heed his advice. The broad concerns from stakeholders, the county, the city and others at least deserve a response.”

Custer Telephone, based in Challis, has proposed that AT&T co-locate on Custer’s existing nearby 100-foot tower or build several smaller towers.

In an Oct. 22 letter to the Land Board, ICL stated that it is “very concerned that an opportunity is being missed to develop an alternative approach that meets all interests and legal mandates.”

In a letter to AT&T dated Sept. 15, Ashley Brown, historical review officer with the Idaho State Historic Preservation Office, a state agency, said the office “has determined that the construction of the monopole will adversely affect the feeling and setting of the Redfish Lodge Complex, two aspects of integrity that qualify the property for inclusion in the National Register [of Historic Places].”

Email the writer: gmoore@mtexpress.com

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