Wednesday, September 15, 2004

SNRA cell tower sites listed

Galena Summit, Stanley-area hill focus of application

Express Staff Writer

Galena Summit and a hilltop near Stanley could soon sprout large new trees that tower about 40 feet taller than neighboring conifers.

In applications on file at the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, the Hailey-based Idaho Tower Company is proposing to build 90-foot-tall cellular telephone towers at Galena Summit and on a hilltop directly east and across the Salmon River from the Stanley Ranger Station.

According to Idaho Tower?s application, the towers would be ?stealth? in nature and be disguised to look like large pine trees.

Earlier this month, the SNRA began soliciting public feedback about where cellular coverage is desired and where cellular telephone towers might be appropriate. The agency?s press release did not elaborate about the specific proposals, both submitted by Idaho Tower Co. In fact, SNRA Special Use Administrator Scott Loos said the agency would solicit bids from prospective companies after it determines if there is a need for cellular telephone coverage in the Sawtooth Valley and Stanley Basin.

So, while the Idaho Tower Co.?s applications may not be a sure thing, the documents do contain a number of specifics, first submitted to the SNRA on March 21, 2003.

?The (Galena Summit) site needs to extend above the other trees, as the wireless technology works mostly by line of sight,? wrote Idaho Tower co-owner Jennifer Campbell. ?To the casual observer, the site will likely go unnoticed, and at most be observed as an aberrant tree protruding above the other trees.?

Jointly, the towers at Galena Summit and Stanley would provide wireless telephone coverage along the entire Highway 75 corridor between Galena Lodge and Stanley, as well as several destination locations like Redfish Lake. The residents of Stanley, Obsidian and Sawtooth City would enjoy coverage for the first time.

Campbell explained that cellular telephone companies use different antennas, even when located on the same tower. The antennas need between 10 and 20 feet of vertical separation to keep from interfering with each other. The 90-foot towers would contain enough space for about five cellular telephone companies.

The Galena Summit tower site would be about a quarter mile north of the highway?s high point near a Forest Service weather station. A dirt road already accesses the site. In several renderings on file with the application, the tree is noticeable, but not overly conspicuous from most locations. It is unclear whether the renderings were created from all locations where the tower would be visible.

The Stanley-area site would be about a half mile east of the Stanley Ranger Station, near the top of a 7,301-foot mountain. The tower would be situated at about 7,283 feet, among spotty stands of lodgepole pine trees. Renderings showed the tower would be rather conspicuous from the Sunny Gulch Campground, a river-side camping area just north of Redfish Lake Road. From Stanley and other locations, the tower was difficult to pick out in the renderings.

Each facility would include an approximately 20 foot by 40 foot, one-story concrete building designed to look like a historic Forest Service cabin.

Although the two towers, designed to look like oversized pine trees, are situated in or near coniferous trees, those trees consist primarily of lodgepole and white bark pines. Both of those species are susceptible to the mountain pine beetle outbreak sweeping the SNRA.

When old trees in Yellowstone National Park recently burned and fell near Old Faithful, a 100-foot tower that was approved by the park in 1999 became much more obvious.

Park Superintendent Suzanne Lewis wrote that ?the conditions that exist today at the location are different than those that existed (when the tower was built).?

The park is considering mandating that the tower is lowered by 20 feet, but activists are not encouraged.

?Shortening the tower at Old Faithful by 20 feet will not make it any less ugly, less inappropriate or less illegal,? said Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization has faulted the National Park Service for allowing the telecommunication industry to determine the size and location of cell towers in national parks. ?The superintendent is stepping around the central issue: Should there be a cell tower at Old Faithful in the first place??

But the debate about cellular facilities on public lands forges ahead farther than a discussion about visual impacts of the towers.

?The larger issue, however, is that the unregulated spread of cell towers may soon mean that even in the most remote and wild corners of our national parks, the ring of a cell phone may be heard,? wrote PEER in an opinion at the group?s Internet site. ?Nowhere will true solitude be possible unless the Park Service can be induced to responsibly manage all of its assets, including peace and quiet.?

However, the SNRA is not a national park, and a number of private residents live within its borders. In fact, residents of Sawtooth City in the upper Sawtooth Valley filed a petition with the SNRA calling for installation of cell-phone facilities. It contained 68 signatures.

?Presently there are annually over 1.5 million visitors to the SNRA region,? Idaho Tower noted in its application. ?It is important to know wireless phones have revolutionized the way people all over America live and work and vacation. Visitors to the SNRA want their phones to work as they travel and vacation in this area.?

According to Sawtooth National Forest spokesman Ed Waldapfel, the agency?s overall concern is that any towers built on public lands in the SNRA are going to have to be ?awfully inconspicuous.?

The agency is soliciting public feedback on the proposal, and about 35 people have chimed in so far. Loos said they are split, about half in favor and about half against cell phone service in the SNRA. About five people indicated that, if towers are built sensitively, the proposal would be okay.

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 electronically to:

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

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