Friday, January 18, 2008

Cell tower would fit into environment

Jennifer Campbell is the co-owner of Idaho Tower Co., the company proposing to build a 90-foot cellular tower on Galena Summit, north of Ketchum.


The following information is presented to better understand the details of Idaho Tower Co.'s cell tower application at Galena Summit. The company has proposed to construct a 90-foot-tall "monopine." This is a stealth cell tower designed to look like a pine tree. Pine branches would extend from the pole, proportionately similar to real pine trees of the same height.

The application, submitted in 2003, is a result of coordinating aesthetic and environmental concern for the land, as well as accommodating technical requirements of wireless carriers. The application is an accumulation of feedback from Sawtooth National Recreaton Area staff and is modeled off other successful introductions of wireless services, including those in the highly sensitive and protected Teton National Forest.

Locating on Galena Summit provides optimal coverage capability for the region while providing extensive natural camouflage. Even though the proposed facility would be located along the Galena ridgeline, it would not be seen from most parts of Highway 75, north and south of Galena Summit. The topography of the site and surrounding land and vegetation would serve to camouflage the facility most effectively. The proposed single monopine would be among other pine trees on the summit, and would be approximately 40 feet higher than the surrounding trees. To the casual observer, the site would likely go unnoticed, and at most be observed as an aberrant tree protruding above the other trees.

It is important to know height is needed on the monopine, both for coverage purposes and to have adequate space for multiple wireless tenants. The antennas need to be above the foliage of the immediately surrounding trees, because they lose a lot of signal strength if they are surrounded by physical impediments like leaves and tree branches. There also needs to be a vertical antenna separation, averaging 10 feet, depending on antennas and signal frequencies. Constructing a facility to be no taller than the existing tree line would therefore not be technically feasible. While some might still prefer shorter, multiple trees projecting above the tree line, there are additional reasons to avoid this design. Increased land disturbance is one factor. Increased visual impact is another. As visitors camp, trek, or ski at Galena Summit, they would see more monopines with accompanying equipment shelters, spaced along the ridge, rather than one, in close viewing. Please note there is only one location on Highway 75 where the proposed monopine would be seen from a distance, driving south up the summit from the Sawtooth Valley. Driving at 45 mph, a keen observer would see the tree for less than a minute. As the road is quite turny, drivers' focus would likely be on the road rather than trying to find the monopine on the distant ridge. Photo simulations are with the application and can be viewed by the public at SNRA headquarters.

Jim Banholzer's Dec. 26 letter to the editor, describing tragic events that occurred in the Galena region and reminding readers that cell service is a vital public safety tool, underscores the need for communication services in a beautiful region that attracts almost 2 million visitors annually. We encourage anyone who doubts the effectiveness of cellular service for increasing safety and saving lives to talk to a local fireman, police officer or any sort of emergency responder. As Mr. Banholzer compellingly points out, people have died in car accidents along the stretch of highway that will potentially enjoy cell service from our proposed monopine. One former Blaine County commissioner used to decry the construction of cell towers in the Wood River Valley. Rejecting the advent of cell towers, he would say, "Get a life." Now, he encourages their presence with the plea, "Save a life."

Please know that as local business owners and recreational enthusiasts, we are extremely sensitive to causing any negative impact on the SNRA. Our application was submitted in 2003 to the SNRA. For four years, the SNRA has analyzed our application and its visual and environmental impact with a high degree of analysis and care. I am hoping concerned citizens can take some comfort and confidence that the application has proceeded only after it has met a multitude of important environmental and visual criteria. It may also be helpful to know that communication infrastructure has already been constructed and in place along Galena Summit for many years, without unduly scarring the landscape.

In closing, Idaho Tower Co. appreciates that concerned citizens want to ensure that every reasonable action is taken to protect our beautiful landscape. The company also greatly appreciates that citizens like Mr. Banholzer recognize that providing critical communication services for health and safety can positively enhance people's experience in the outdoors, as well as be a vital tool for protecting the environment.

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