Mount Rainier Poised to Wire Its Wilderness
Park Offers No Alternatives or Mitigation to Contain Cell Spillover from Paradise
Washington, DC — Mount Rainier National Park is in the final stage of approving wireless antennas to relay cellular signals into its most remote reaches. The park has not considered any mitigation measures to lessen spillover of cellular signals across its vast, signature wilderness, according to comments filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Today is the public comment deadline for a plan authorizing Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile and AT&T to co-locate a “Wireless Communications Facility” in the Paradise visitor center, a patch of development surrounded by Mt. Rainier’s designated wilderness covering 97% of the park.
“Mount Rainier is a wilderness park but you would not know that by its management,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, pointing out that the park has assigned 16 staff to accommodate the telecoms but claims to lack sufficient staff to finish its overdue Wilderness Stewardship Plan. “The park has not even contemplated facing the cell panel antennas downward to limit signal spillover simply because the telecom companies want to maximize their coverage – even in the wilderness.”
PEER has been highly critical of both the plan and the park assessment of impacts, citing its failures to –
- Explore alternatives or develop mitigation measures, as other national parks have done;
- Analyze the public safety aspects, both good and bad (such as drivers distracted by their devices) of extending cell coverage across winding, poorly-lit park roads; and
- Respond to the public comments it received last year when it scoped the plan.
“Mount Rainier has made a complete mockery out of involving the public and conducting a competent environmental review,” Ruch added, noting that the park is not going to respond to comments until after it issues its final approval with a “Finding of No Significant Impact.” “In violation of National Park Service rules requiring public notice within 10 days of receiving an application, this park has been working for years behind closed doors as if Mount Rainier is a corporate client.”
Significantly, the park has yet to address how it reconciles protecting wilderness, which by law is to remain “untrammeled” by humans, with enabling visitor access to commercial services for downloading music, streaming videos, or hunting Pokémon. PEER maintains that this both damages the wilderness experience and violates the Wilderness Act’s prohibition on “commercial enterprises” in wilderness.
“It is beyond ironic that these electronic tendrils will despoil solitude and quietude while emanating from a place called Paradise,” Ruch concluded.