For Immediate Release: Mar 22, 2018
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337
Grand Teton Stealth Plan for 11 New Cell Towers
Lawsuit Seeks Records Detailing Nation’s Largest Park Cellular Expansion
Washington, DC — For the past five years, Grand Teton National Park has pursued the biggest expansion of commercial wireless infrastructure in any park in the country while keeping the public in the dark and ignoring both federal laws and agency rules, according to records posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). To surmount the Park’s refusal to disclose documents requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), PEER today filed a lawsuit in federal district court.
In June 2017, Grand Teton published a four-page “scoping” newsletter on a “Telecommunications Infrastructure Plan” for “installation of a fiber optic cable network and wireless telecommunications facilities at strategic developed locations within the park and potentially connecting to Yellowstone National Park’s south entrance.” This short publication asked for public comment but gave no detail as to how many cell towers and other facilities would be built and where, or the extent of proposed coverage.
That same month, PEER sent the Park a letter of protest pointing out its approach violated the National Historic Preservation Act and blatantly flouted National Park Service rules requiring public notice and comment. The letter called on the Park to post online all the required documentation, a request the Park has ignored. The Park has also failed to respond to a parallel PEER FOIA request nearly eight months beyond the statutory deadline.
By happenstance, buried in documents that PEER obtained in a recent FOIA request to Yellowstone National Park was a proposal from a real estate firm called the Heath Group touting the appraisal contract it had signed with Grand Teton this past December. That contract called for appraisal of “11 wireless telecommunications facilities and 55 miles of linear right-of-way for a fiber-optic cable conduit” at locations including Flagg Ranch, Colter Bay, Jackson Lake Lodge, Moose, North and South Jenny Lake.
“Grand Teton is developing the largest wireless network in any national park all behind closed doors,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that Interior’s Office of the Inspector General has just begun a park system-wide performance evaluation and financial audit of national park commercial wireless facilities in response to a PEER complaint in October. “Grand Teton is the new poster child for how parks should not partner with telecom companies.”
Some of the locations Grand Teton is considering for towers, such as historic Jackson Lake Lodge and Jenny Lake Ranger Station Historic District, trigger additional requirements for public notice and comment as well as consultation with the Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office that the Park appears to have also brushed aside.
“One concern is that all of Grand Teton’s planned facilities would provide coverage along its roads, leading to greater public safety risks from distracted drivers and wildlife carnage from roadkill,” added Ruch. “One important reason for public involvement at the earliest stages is so that all of these issues can be fully examined and assessed, and alternatives carefully weighed. Grand Teton leadership apparently does not trust the public and is planning to cram though what it has pre-cooked as a done deal.”
The Park’s 2017 scoping newsletter refers to “right-of-way permit applications” it has been receiving since 2013, none of which has been disclosed to the public.