Wednesday, September 1, 2004

SNRA considers cell towers

Express Staff Writer

In response to inquiries by several private companies, the Sawtooth National Recreation Area is trying to measure public sentiment about the potential construction of ?stealth? cellular telephone facilities along the state Highway 75 corridor between Galena Lodge and Stanley.

SNRA Special Use Administrator Scott Loos said the ?initial planning? has focused on the highway corridor, as well as the Redfish Lake area.

?Is cell phone coverage in this area needed or desired by the public?? Loos asked. ?Currently there is no cell phone coverage.?

Loos said any cellular telephone facilities built on the SNRA would be of a stealth nature, meaning they would blend in with their surroundings as much as possible. He said a variety of technological options are being considered.

?The desired areas of coverage will assist in determining which technology will be employed and where the sites will be located,? Loos said.

SNRA spokesman Ed Waldapfel said the U.S. Forest Service believes there may be a lot of interest in this type of project. For that reason, the agency is soliciting comments of a general nature.

?Once we decide if there?s a need, we?ll issue a prospectus and have companies bid on it,? he said.

Although the SNRA has been in discussions with cellular telephone tower builders for more than a year, officials were not able to answer many specific questions about where towers might be built or the coverage they might offer.

Waldapfel said more than one company has expressed interest, ?but one in particular.? He added that a representative of a tower company told the Forest Service that coverage throughout the corridor could be provided from two tower sites. He did not know offhand what sites were being considered.

?First, do people feel there is a need for cell phone coverage?? Waldapfel asked. ?Number two, the Forest Service is interested in finding out if people want coverage for emergency purposes, or do they want to keep up with the stock market while they?re camping??

The Forest Service?s overall concern is that any towers built on public lands in the SNRA are going to have to be ?awfully inconspicuous,? Waldapfel said.

To be most helpful, the SNRA is requesting written comments to be submitted by Oct. 1.

Send comments to: Sawtooth National Recreation Area, HC 64, Box 8291, Ketchum, ID 83340, Attn: Scott Loos. Comments can also be submitted elec-tronically to:

Forest Service officials anticipate making a decision on this proposal by June 2005.

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