Washington, DC -- In violation of the law and without required public notice, the National Park Service has allowed the construction of an 80-foot cell phone tower looming over Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Unshielded by trees and without any attempt at camouflage, the stark, silvery pole and its three antennas are clearly visible from much of what has been legally designated as the Old Faithful Historic District.
In a letter dated January 7, 2004, Judy Wolf of the Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office wrote to the National Park Service (NPS) at Yellowstone urging that the NPS "reduce or eliminate this adverse effect" caused by the large cell phone tower in the Old Faithful Historic District. Prompted by a complaint filed by PEER, Wolf also found that the NPS had changed the size and contours of the structure from what had been submitted to the state for review.
"Its custodians have been unfaithful to Old Faithful in a way that suggests commercial convenience matters more than protecting a public resource," stated PEER Board member Frank Buono, a former long-time National Park Service manager. "The Old Faithful viewshed is one of the most recognized assets in our national park system but it is being managed with all the care of a strip mall."
Western Wireless Corporation built the cell phone tower in the summer of 2001 with the approval of Michael Snyder of the NPS Regional Office in Denver. PEER contends that Snyder's action ignored both the intent of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 as well as violating the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) of 1965. Snyder also shirked one of the prime directives of the agency's 1916 Organic Act that the Park Service conserve park scenery.
While the Telecommunications Act of 1996 opened the door to cell towers on federal lands, Congress directed federal agencies to make appropriate regulations for preventing unsightly proliferation of towers. As the key committee report stated:
"The Committee recognizes, for example, that use of the Washington Monument, Yellowstone National Park or a pristine wildlife sanctuary, while perhaps prime sites for an antenna and other facilities, are not appropriate and use of them would be contrary to environmental, conservation, and public safety laws." (House Commerce Committee Report on H.R. 1555 [July 1995])
"By way of a lame justification, the Park Service claims that the tower is needed for emergency situations but Yellowstone has plenty of other options; safety does not require that we trash Old Faithful," Buono noted.
In addition, the Park Service failed to file a notice in the Federal Register as required by law that it was even considering approving the tower. PEER today released the draft public notice that the NPS composed but never filed.