The controversy surrounding the replacement of the new Idaho Falls water tower may have a solution, one that came with the help of local people giving their input to the city council.
First, a little background. The iconic water tower in Idaho Falls is no longer sufficient to sustain the growth of the city, according to city engineers. By vote, the city council chose a small greenspace site along the Snake River called South Capital Park as the site for the new tower.
The city council received immediate backlash from the public on this decision because construction would consume nearly a third of this riverside park, but according to City Councilman John Radford, the new Idaho Falls water tower may have a new spot — one that is not in South Capital Park.
By way of petition, Idaho Falls residents have raised awareness about water tower placement in the park. They requested reconsideration based on the following reasons — the public was not adequately involved in the decision-making process, there are other site locations and the riverside greenspace the park offers is important to the community.
Residents have since gained substantial support through a Facebook page, a website and a GoFundMe page where they have raised over $5,000 in favor of preserving South Capital Park. This of course got the attention of the city council.
Councilman John Radford, one of the decision makers on the forefront of the water tower discussion, interviewed with BYU-Idaho Radio about this issue, which has been a long and difficult journey.
“You know, I’m grateful I live in a city that when someone sees things that are wrong in their mind that they go fight for right, and that’s what I think happened here,” Radford said. “I know that this hasn’t been easy for the people in the city that are the administrators and our mayor an many other people who have to make these difficult decisions. It’s not easy to make a decision and then have people question it over and over and over.”
Radford observed through interaction with locals that most were aware that the water tower was being moved but very few knew where the new site would be. Radford also recognized that the COVID-19 shutdowns likely interfered with the circulation of information about water tower sites that were being considered by the council.
Including South Capital Park, the council was also considering downtown parking lots as possible water tower sites. During the initial consideration of locations, around 80 residents spoke at council meetings to express their concerns for losing downtown parking and others were vocal about keeping the riverside greenspace at South Capital Park.
Based upon these testimonies, the council ultimately chose the park as the “best” location. Despite citizen participation early on, Radford pointed out how the citizenry should show consistent interest in city council affairs before critical decisions are made.
“I hope as a culture here in Eastern Idaho … that we can see more that as citizens, we need to be involved in our day-to-day life of governing and understand that government isn’t some mystical ‘them’ or some mystical ‘someone else.’ Our government in a constitutional republic is us. We are the ones who vote and determine who is going to represent us. We’re also the ones who go out and try to influence people that are in government,” Radford said.
Since the petition was launched, there’s been a new location proposed. On Tuesday, November 23, the Idaho Falls Public Library Board indicated the new water tower could be built in their parking lot. In this spot, the library would get a new lot design and only lose two spaces in the process. There will need to be surveys and votes from the city council, but ultimately, it appears the voice of the people is leading the water tower to find its rightful place in the city.