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It’s likely that most Americans think of potatoes when they think of Idaho.

While we do have some stellar potatoes, people also visit (and move to) this state to experience the best of the outdoors. Our pristine wilderness, sparkling lakes and cloud-grazing peaks remain largely untouched by our rapidly changing world because we’ve taken steps to protect it.

That’s why it’s so disappointing that AT&T and the Custer Telephone Cooperative can’t forge a deal on cell tower usage in the Sawtooths, and that the Idaho Land Board is complicit in allowing a project that harms the very thing that makes Idaho special.

The state Department of Lands is moving forward with plans to lease land for a 195-foot-tall cell tower on top of a 300-foot ridge. This falls right in the middle of an iconic Idaho view: the Sawtooth Mountains as seen from Stanley.

AT&T would lease the 50-by-75-foot area of state endowment land for $29,000 a year for 20 years. The state accepted the bid; it was the only one in the auction. The Land Board should have stepped in sooner to stop this auction so we weren’t in this situation.

In July, a range of stakeholders voiced opposition to the proposed cell tower at a state Land Board meeting. The Custer County Commission, the Sawtooth Society, Idaho Conservation League, area businesses and longtime residents and visitors all testified.

“It could hardly be in a worse place,” Stanley Mayor Steve Botti told the Land Board, the Idaho Press reported.

In September, the Idaho State Historic Preservation Office officially determined the proposed tower would cause “adverse effect to historic properties.”

Those same groups petitioned for a contested case hearing before the Land Board, and asked to be placed on the Land Board’s Nov. 17 meeting agenda.

The meeting came and went without discussion on the cell tower.

We think this is getting pretty fishy. Especially considering there is a low-impact secondary option that has broad support.

Near the site of the proposed tower is another plot of land leased by Custer Telephone Cooperative. That land hosts a 100-foot cell tower installed in 2013. The co-op told the Land Board it was willing to let AT&T co-locate on its tower, instead of building a massive new tower. The firms weren’t able to reach an agreement.

This seems like it could be win-win-win: AT&T expands its service, doesn’t have to build a new tower and incur construction costs. The local co-op makes a little extra cash. Sawtooth views remain sweeping and awe-inspiring.

We acknowledge that the world is changing, and the realities of business operations. If there is a market for cell coverage in remote areas of Idaho, there will be companies taking that opportunity.

That doesn’t mean companies, governments and communities can’t work together for the best outcome for all involved. We’re disappointed the Department of Lands went ahead with this single-bidder auction, and that the two tech companies involved can’t find a solution to prevent the disruption of a cherished landscape.

We encourage those passionate on this issue to contact land board members to reexamine the state’s process to lease endowment land and make sure it’s done more responsibly. We need the land board to be more proactive in protecting our public lands.

CONTACT THE LAND BOARD

Editorials are based on the majority opinion of the Idaho Press editorial board, comprised of community members Rod Gramer, Rosie Delgadillo Reilly, Tracy Watt, Nicholas O’Bryant and Pat Klocke, and Idaho Press President and Publisher Matt Davison. Idaho Press managing editor Holly Beech and city editor Tess Fox are non-voting members. Views expressed in the editorial do not necessarily represent unanimous agreement among all board members.

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