Washington, DC — The National Park System has abdicated its responsibility to protect park scenery and serenity by opening every unit to cell tower construction, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In addition, NPS is violating requirements that the public be notified of, and allowed to comment on, new cell towers.
In the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Congress opened the door to tower construction by directing the National Park Service to develop appropriate regulations for preventing unsightly proliferation of towers. But as of today the NPS does not —
- Know the number or location of cell towers within National Parks;
- Have a coherent policy of what are inappropriate cell tower placements, heights or configurations. It is left up to each park superintendent to decide. Even what minimal national policy that did exist expired on April 4;
- Preclude cell phone coverage in wilderness areas, meaning that soon every corner of every national park will be receiving cell phone signals.
“The National Park Service is inducing the death of solitude,” stated PEER Board Member Frank Buono, a former long-time NPS manager who does not own a cell phone. “How can one commune with nature when you cannot escape ‘the calling area’ of civilization?”
Despite the dictates of previous NPS policy and congressional intent, the public is almost never notified about applications for new cell towers nor are they allowed to comment on towers prior to construction. An examination of the Federal Register yielded only six notices of initial application and only four notices that an environmental assessment was available for review. The only NPS unit that issued both required notices was the George Washington Memorial Parkway, located in a highly urban area within the Washington, DC Metro Area.
Last month, PEER protested an illegal 100-foot cell tower that NPS approved overlooking Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park, where again the public was shut out of the permit process. A review of Federal Communications licenses by the Forest Conservation Council shows cell towers in a number of parks, including Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Everglades National Parks, as well as Big Cypress and Mojave National Preserves. None of these facilities had the required public notices.
In response to PEER, NPS is now claiming a public safety rationale but have been unable to identify the extent or utility of emergency usage. “The Park Service has seized upon public safety as an after-the-fact pretext; the agency has not even studied its public safety communications needs,” added Buono. “Of greater concern, the logic of this new public safety argument dictates cell coverage over every square inch of the National Park System — a decision the National Park Service appeared to reach without one iota of public involvement.”