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Potlatch Hill residents oppose cell tower

by KAYE THORNBRUGH
Staff Writer | September 30, 2022 1:08 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — Emotions ran high Thursday night when Kootenai County residents shared their concerns with county commissioners about a proposed cell tower off Potlatch Hill Road.

The board of commissioners will deliberate the proposal Oct. 6 at 9 a.m. at the Kootenai County administration building.

Landowner Thomas Ingle, AT&T and SmartLink are seeking a conditional-use permit to build a “wireless communication facility to provide the latest 5G and 4G LTE technology.”

The proposed tower would be located south of the intersection of East Potlatch Hill Road and East Sky Harbor Drive. It will consist of a 150-foot lattice tower and ground equipment on a 7.13-acre parcel of land in the agricultural suburban zone.

The tower would be within a 70-by-70-foot fenced area accessed from Potlatch Hill Road. The site is currently vacant land located within the city of Coeur d’Alene.

Hearing examiner Joan Woodard recommended that commissioners deny the proposal, in part because she determined the proposal conflicts with the goals and policies of the county’s comprehensive plan.

However, Community Development Director David Callahan noted Thursday that Woodard mistakenly referred to the obsolete 2010 comprehensive plan when writing her report, making parts of the report invalid.

Woodard said a forest management plan is necessary to address fire prevention. She also said the applicant must restore the condition of Potlatch Hill Road during construction and share the costs for seasonal maintenance and development.

The proposal has received overwhelmingly negative feedback. Between three public hearings, the county received 65 comments opposing the cell tower and just two comments in support. One person submitted a neutral comment.

The most frequent concern expressed by residents Thursday was about the potential for lightning strikes and limited evacuation routes.

“This is not just a debate about a piece of land,” Alissa Desancic said. “Our homes and our lives are actually being threatened.”

Kootenai County Fire and Rescue approved the proposal with no conditions. A grounding system will be installed at the base of the tower and around the fenced area.

Potlatch Hill Road is a single-lane, dirt road with limited room coming and going. Residents said it’s so narrow that emergency vehicles are sometimes unable to turn around and instead must back down the hill.

Jason Lambert described how trees downed in the 2021 windstorm made it impossible for some Potlatch Hill residents to get out.

“It is a dangerous community,” he said. “The fear is real for people who actually live on the hill.”

Other comments involved concerns about the visual impact of the tower, negative effects on wildlife and potential health risks.

AT&T’s representative, Josh Leonard, said Thursday that the proposed tower will increase the coverage area by 20 miles, filling a “significant gap.”

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