Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Galena cell tower decision overturned

Officials: Forest didnít offer enough public comment

Express Staff Writer

A regional official with the U.S. Forest Service has reversed a controversial decision made earlier this year that denied the installation of a 90-foot, self-supporting cellular tower along state Highway 75 on Galena Summit.

The about-face breathes new life into a local company's quest to erect the controversial tower northwest of Ketchum near the headwaters of the Big Wood River.

"I'm glad it was reversed," said Jennifer Campbell who, along with her husband, John Campbell, is seeking to construct the tower in an area without existing cellular service. The Campbells own Ketchum-based Idaho Tower Co.

The reversal was in response to an appeal filed by the Campbells against the July decision by Sawtooth National Forest Supervisor Jane Kollmeyer to deny the proposed "stealth" tower. Proponents of the facility have claimed it would add a significant measure of safety for the traveling public in the rural area surrounding Galena Summit, which marks the divide between the Big Wood and Salmon river drainages.

The reversal was made on Tuesday by the Forest Service's deputy regional forester, Cathy Beaty.

A news release from the Sawtooth National Forest states that the reversal of Kollmeyer's decision was based on the failure to provide adequate notice and opportunity for public comment on the project.

Kollmeyer stated that procedural errors in the decison-making process will need to be corrected. The news release did not address how repeating the process might affect a decision.

"We missed a step in the process and will work to remedy that situation," Kollmeyer stated. "We are currently considering our options and I will decide how to proceed in the next few weeks."

According to Campbell, Kollmeyer could elect to go back and reconsider the entire application package.

"Nobody is sure how they'll proceed," Campbell said. "It will come under public comment again."

Citing the "substantial impairment" the project would produce on the scenic ridgetop, Kollmeyer announced earlier this year that she had chosen the "No Action" alternative described in an environmental assessment that considered potential impacts of the tower on lands in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. That meant the facility could not be built.

But in the lengthy appeal submitted last week by Idaho Tower Co., the Campbells claimed Kollmeyer had already decided to deny the application before the environmental analysis began. The appeal further claimed that many of the objections to the controversial application were on grounds that "they do not want cell coverage to potentially interfere with their idea of how one should enjoy the SNRA."

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