BOISE – The Idaho Conservation League and others have filed requests for a contested case hearing with Gov. Brad Little and other members of the Idaho Land Board based on concerns with a proposed lease for a 195-foot cell phone tower on state lands in the Sawtooth Valley. The Mayor of Stanley, Sawtooth Society, Sawtooth Historical and Interpretative Association (SIHA), and Advocates for the West have joined with ICL in support of the Idaho Land Board considering this issue at its next meeting on Nov. 17.
In addition, in a letter dated September 15, the Idaho State Historic Preservation Office determined that the proposed tower would result in “adverse effect to historic properties.”
The Idaho Department of Lands is in the final stages of approving a lease with AT&T/New Cingular Wireless to build a new cell phone tower on state lands that are within the boundaries of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. At three times the height of surrounding trees, the proposed tower would protrude above the green landscape and impact the spectacular views in this scenic area.
Stanley Mayor Steve Botti said, “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. 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 and others raised concerns with the proposed 195-foot tower at the Idaho Land Board’s July 21 meeting. In their testimony, ICL, SIHA, the Sawtooth Society and the Mayor of Stanley argued that IDL failed to consider public input and alternatives, such as co-locating a tower on the existing nearby lease with CusterTel, or to find other arrangements to minimize the impacts from AT&T’s proposed tower. Stakeholders also pointed out opposition from the Sawtooth Search and Rescue Committee, which raised similar concerns and stated that co-location of a tower could meet emergency communication needs Following that testimony, and despite repeated outreach to the Land Board, no response was provided and public records request revealed that the lease was being finalized.
Another major concern is lighting for the proposed tower. The project site sits squarely in the middle of the Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve, designated by the International Dark-Sky Association in 2017. The CIDSR is the first such designation in the U.S., one of only 12 such reserves in the world, and was awarded “Gold Tier” status – the highest ranking for night sky quality.
ICL 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,” said ICL’s Jonathan Oppenheimer. “Governor 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. Good neighbor policies should work on both sides of the fence.”
Congress established the SNRA in 1972 to preserve the area’s natural, scenic, historic, pastoral, and fish and wildlife values, and to provide for the enhancement of its recreational values. Opponents of the project argue that the proposed cell tower would conflict with core SNRA values and urge the State of Idaho to consider alternatives.
Governor Brad Little, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, Secretary of State Lawerence Denney, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherry Ybarra and State Controller Brandon Woolf sit on the Idaho Board of Land Commissioners (aka Land Board).