Yellowstone’s New Cell Tower Pre-Approved Despite Impacts
Disingenuous Call for Public Comments Does Not Cure Violations of Law and Policy
Washington, DC — Even as it calls for public comments, Yellowstone National Park has already signed off on a fifth cell tower, this one in the center of the park. The size, appearance and other impacts of this 100-foot metal lattice structure with four antenna arrays violates both agency policy and federal law, according to comments filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Located to serve Yellowstone’s Lake Village and Fishing Bridge, the tower will loom more than 30 feet above any canopy and will be visible from the Grand Loop Road Historic District. After PEER exposed this plan back in July, National Park Service (NPS) officials promised to reveal more detail and allow the public an opportunity to comment. Material that NPS posted last week did not allay concerns that PEER raised:
- Sham Call for Comments. A careful reading of the material confirms that park officials believe that the Lake cell tower was already approved as part of Yellowstone’s own Wireless Plan back in 2009. In its latest action, the park is merely seeking comment on its intention to forego further environmental review, public comment or notice before breaking ground;
- Violation of National Management Policies. In 2006, NPS adopted a policy barring erection of “traditional towers (i.e., monopole or lattice)” unless “all other options have been explored.” From records obtained by PEER, park officials did not identify, let alone explore, any alternative to this tower or ways to reduce the structure’s unsightliness; and
- Soundscapes. Although the park posted a coverage map for the new tower, it provided no context or explanation. For example, its map seems to show cell signals inexplicably stopping at water’s edge.
“The Park Service has no interest in what the public thinks since the new tower has already been set into motion,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, reiterating that the majority of public comments on the 2008 Yellowstone Wireless Plan opposed a tower for Lake Village. “It takes some nerve to limit public comment to the decision to dispense with further public comment.”
Among other issues raised by PEER is the park’s lack of compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act which requires public involvement in assessing effects on cultural and historical resources. NPS acknowledges that the top 30 feet of the tower (the part with the antennas and microwave dishes) will be visible from one historic district (it did not provide information on the other nearby historic districts). This is the same improper impact NPS eventually acknowledged for the cell tower it also approved without public notice or comment overlooking the Old Faithful Historic District.
“This tower completes a corporate plan to wire Yellowstone,” Ruch added. “Cumulative coverage maps suggest that two-thirds of Yellowstone, including much of its backcountry, either has or soon will have cellular coverage. As a result, park visitors in remote locations and on iconic vistas will be subjected to the chime of ring-tones and the clueless chatter of cell conversations.”
Yellowstone is receiving public comments on this issue through November 16th.