Charges were raised today that the National Park Service is moving to OK a 100-foot-tall cellphone tower in the middle of Yellowstone National Park without having properly taken all the steps to OK the project, including informing the public along the way.
Additionally, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility contends Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk pushed the plan without adhering to guidelines in the Park Service's Management Policies, in violation of the National Historic Preservation Act, and without waiting for comments on the project from the Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office.
The project, which would have the tower rise 30 feet above surrounding trees, allegedly violates the park's own Wireless Plan, which states cell towers can't go more than 20 feet above trees without "“a detailed explanation of why a shorter installation is not feasible.” That explanation, maintains PEER, has not been provided.
“The Park Service did not follow its own plan and as a result there is less public involvement now,” claimed PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch in a release, adding that park officials are not interested in public input. “As evidenced by the abandonment of their own resource protection policies, the only thing the Park Service seems inclined to do is accommodate telecom companies.”
Park officials did not immediately respond this morning to questions about the project and their response to PEER's charges.
According to PEER, the proposed tower would be the fifth placed in Yellowstone. In a letter to the Park Service's Intermountain Region director, John Wessels, Mr. Ruch said the park's approach to cellular communications threatens to wipe out any chance for solitude in Yellowstone's 2.2 million acres.
"It is our understanding that much of Yellowstone’s backcountry receives cell coverage from the four (and soon to be five) towers on park land," Mr. Ruch wrote in a letter (attached below) sent Monday. "As a result, the solitude of the remotest vistas of Yellowstone is being compromised by NPS management that seems to disregard park resources and values. Soon there will be no place in Yellowstone outside the reach of the insistent chirp of a cell phone or the web of internet access enabled by the cell signals."
In a May 24, 2012 letter cited by PEER, Superintendent Wenk described the proposed Lake area tower as follows:
“The tower will be 100 feet tall and constructed of metal lattice with four tenant antennas located within the top 30 feet of the tower. Approximately 30 feet of the tower will be above the tree canopy.”
Under the Management Policies, metal lattice towers are prohibited unless "all other options have been explored." PEER officials say they examined park records received under a Freedom of Information Act request and those records indicate "that the park has not even looked at other options, let alone 'explored' any."
In calling on Director Wessels to veto the plan, PEER claimed that:
* Yellowstone officials "stifled" internal objections to the height of the proposed tower;
* Failed to conduct studies into how far into the backcountry signals would be received.
* Failed to provided required public notice, details of which were laid out in a December 2009 meeting among park officials that included discussions of the proposed cell tower. "Contrary to the requirements of law and numerous NPS policies, the park has not shared a single detail about the tower with the public. No press release, Federal Register notice or coverage maps were issued and no public meetings held," PEER noted. "Internal records show plans to conduct outreach but those plans were quashed by NPS headquarters."
PEER officials maintain that Yellowstone officials in the past have gone astray with cell tower plans.
"Yellowstone developed a Wireless Plan to cure the egregiously poor process that led to the construction of the cell tower overlooking Old Faithful that the Park Service admits was a mistake. One purpose of the plan was to improve public involvement to avoid future Old Faithful fiascos," the group contends.
"The Park Service did not follow its own plan and as a result there is less public involvement now,” said Mr. Ruch. “As evidenced by the abandonment of their own resource protection policies, the only thing the Park Service seems inclined to do is accommodate telecom companies.”