Washington, DC -- The National Park Service must explain why it allowed construction of a 100-foot cell phone tower over Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park in violation of both historical preservation laws and public notice requirements, according to a letter released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Unshielded by trees and without camouflage, the stark, silvery pole and its three antennas are clearly visible from almost every part of the Old Faithful Historic District.
In a June 2, 2004 letter to the Yellowstone superintendent, the national Advisory Council on Historic Preservation opened a formal review of the legality of the Old Faithful cell tower. The Council, which enforces the National Historic Preservation Act, also cited the Park's failure to respond to January 7, 2004 letter from Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office urging the National Park Service (NPS) to "reduce or eliminate this adverse effect" caused by the large cell phone tower looming over the Old Faithful Historic District.
Prompted by a complaint filed by PEER, the Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office also found that the NPS had changed the size and contours of the structure from what had been submitted to the state for review. Compounding matters, the Park Service failed to file a notice in the Federal Register as required by law that it was even considering approving the tower. In fact, NPS drafted a public notice but never filed it.
"The Park Service first misrepresented what it was doing and then hid its actions from the public," stated PEER executive Director Jeff Ruch. "On top of that, the Park Service permitted the tower in one place that Congress explicitly told it not to." When 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])
"One of the prime directives for the National Park Service is to conserve scenery; Old Faithful is one of the most valued views in the world and deserves better care than it is receiving," added Ruch, whose organization has pushed the Park Service to develop a policy on cell tower placement rather than let telecommunication companies decide where and how many towers will be built in parks. "By any standard, the Old Faithful cell tower is an eyesore."
Learn more about proliferation of cell phone towers in our national parks