Jonathan Oppenheimer, External Relations Director, ICL, (208) 345-6933 x126
Kathryn Grohusky, Executive Director, Sawtooth Society, (208) 721-1495
Stewart Wilder, President, SIHA, (208) 407-0842
Laird Lucas, Executive Director, Advocates for the West, (208) 342-7024 x201
BOISE – Today, the Idaho Board of Land Commissioners (Land Board) rejected contested case petitions from the Idaho Conservation League and the Sawtooth Historical and Interpretive Association (SIHA) over a controversial proposal to build a 195-foot tall cell phone tower in the Sawtooth Valley.
The project would sit on state-owned lands on a ridge overlooking Redfish Lake. At three times the height of surrounding trees, the proposed tower would protrude above the landscape and impact the spectacular views in this scenic, iconic area.
ICL, SIHA and partners, including the Mayor of Stanley, Sawtooth Society, and Advocates for the West, have consistently raised concerns over the impacts the proposed tower would have in one of the state’s most scenic areas. Also, the Idaho State Historic Preservation Office determined that the proposal fails to comply with the National Historic Preservation Act. To date, neither the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) nor the Land Board have responded to public input, evaluated alternatives, or modified the proposal.
“Once again, the Idaho Land Board has refused to provide a venue for concerned citizens and the public to evaluate this proposal. We have been willing to find common ground and suitable alternatives that could enhance communications while protecting the beauty of the Sawtooths and providing revenue to the State. It’s unfortunate that Idaho’s elected state leaders have been unwilling to budge,” said Jonathan Oppenheimer, ICL’s external relations director.
With the Land Board’s decision to reject the contested case, AT&T/New Cingular Wireless and IDL can finalize the state lease. Then, AT&T likely will submit an application to the Federal Communications Commission. Once AT&T submits the application, the FCC’s approval process allows for a more thorough environmental review if sensitive resources could be impacted.
ICL and partners argue that the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve, historic sites, and scenic vistas would all be negatively impacted by the cell tower, and deserve additional review. Local search and rescue providers and CusterTel also agree that other options could provide adequate coverage for AT&T’s needs.
Laird Lucas, executive director of Advocates for the West, also testified before the Land Board in July that “federal environmental laws must be complied with, and the Land Board would be well advised by directing IDL staff to work with the applicant to develop alternatives, including co-locating with the existing CusterTel tower.”
Another major concern is lighting. The project sits in the middle of the Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve, the first such designation in the U.S, one of only 18 such reserves in the world, and granted “Gold Tier” status (the highest ranking for night sky quality). Federal Aviation Administration rules could require the proposed cell tower to be lighted.
ICL and others raised concerns with AT&T’s proposed tower at the Land Board’s July 21 meeting. ICL, SIHA, the Sawtooth Society and the Mayor of Stanley argued that IDL failed to consider public input and alternatives, such as co-locating with CusterTel on an existing site nearby, or relocating AT&T’s tower.
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. ICL and other opponents of the proposed cell tower argue that it would conflict with core SNRA values and urge the State to consider alternatives.
“The Sawtooth Society strongly opposes granting this lease. If the cell tower is installed as planned, it will tragically violate a central value of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area by degrading and unacceptably impacting the landscape and viewshed,” said Kathryn Grohusky, executive director of the Sawtooth Society.
Idaho 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 (a.k.a. Land Board).
ICL works hard to keep Idaho’s public lands in public hands. We participate in collaborative projects across the state to help develop and implement policies that help restore and sustain the natural resources of Idaho’s public lands while laying the groundwork for permanent protective designations. Our focus is protecting public lands for future generations and the native plants, fish, and wildlife that depend on them.