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After outcry, officials say they’ll ‘vet options’ for cell tower in Sawtooths

Baron Lake in the Sawtooth Wilderness as seen on June 27, 2019. Baron Lake is one of more than 300 alpine lakes in the 756,000-acre Sawtooth National Recreation Area. (Eli Francovich / The Spokesman-Review)
Baron Lake in the Sawtooth Wilderness as seen on June 27, 2019. Baron Lake is one of more than 300 alpine lakes in the 756,000-acre Sawtooth National Recreation Area. (Eli Francovich / The Spokesman-Review)
By Nicole Blanchard The Idaho Statesman

Idaho officials say they are weighing stakeholder concerns following outcry over a proposed cellular tower lease on state-owned land near a popular outdoor recreation area.

The 195-foot tower would be built near the Sawtooth Fish Hatchery on endowment land owned by the Idaho Department of Lands. There is already a 100-foot tower owned and operated by Custer Telephone on the same parcel. The new tower was proposed by AT&T as part of the FirstNet program, a nationwide network meant to connect first responders in the event of a mass catastrophe. It would be about a mile from the northern end of Redfish Lake and about 765 feet from the boundary of the neighboring Sawtooth National Recreation Area.

Stewart Wilder, president of the Sawtooth Interpretive and Historical Association, told the Idaho Statesman he heard from officials at Gov. Brad Little’s office Friday who said the Idaho Department of Lands would “pump the brakes” on the proposal in order to collect more feedback from concerned residents.

Idaho Department of Lands spokeswoman Sharla Arledge said in an email Monday that the leasing process is not on hold and will continue to move forward with AT&T, Idaho Department of Lands staff and the deputy attorney general who works with the agency. No timeline for the project was available when the Statesman inquired last week.

“In the meantime, Director Dustin Miller will work with staff and others to look into concerns and further vet options at the site,” Arledge said in the Monday email.

According to Marissa Morrison Hyer, a spokeswoman for Little’s office, the governor did not ask the Idaho Department of Lands to pause on the proposal.

“IDL Director Dustin Miller informed our office he will not sign a lease until considering concerns and more fully vetting options at the site,” Morrison Hyer said in an email.

Most critics said they worried the tower would mar the scenic area, while others were frustrated with the lack of public involvement in the lease process. The Idaho Department of Lands is not required to seek public comment on uses for endowment land. The Sawtooth Interpretive and Historical Association sent a letter of opposition to the Idaho Department of Lands last week, as did the Sawtooth Society. Steve Botti, the mayor of nearby Stanley, said he emailed the governor’s office with his concerns around the same time.

Wilder said he hopes Miller and his staff will speak with Custer Telephone, which sent a letter through its lawyers in January proposing AT&T co-locate on its existing 100-foot tower in the area.

“I also think the Sawtooth Society and Sawtooth Interpretive and Historical Association and (Mayor Botti) will certainly all be involved,” Wilder said in a phone interview. “I think the evidence and the studies are there, and you can’t really argue against them.”

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