Washington, DC -- Yellowstone National Park has informed state and federal historic preservation agencies that it is considering shortening and camouflaging the controversial cell phone tower overlooking the Old Faithful Historic District, according to a letter released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
In a letter dated June 18, 2004, Yellowstone Superintendent Suzanne Lewis informed the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation that the park was considering "removing an additional 20 feet of the tower" as well as "whether or not to camouflage the tower to improve the visual quality of the site." The federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation has opened an investigation on the legality of the cell tower for its "adverse effect" on the Old Faithful Historic District. The Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office has lodged a similar complaint against the park for erecting a structure far different than what it described in the very limited public notices it circulated.
"Shortening the tower at Old Faithful by 20 feet will not make it any less ugly, less inappropriate or less illegal," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization has been faulting the National Park Service for allowing the telecommunication industry to determine the size and location of cell towers spreading throughout the national park system. "The superintendent is stepping around the central issue--should there be a cell tower at Old Faithful in the first place?" By way of explanation, Superintendent Lewis writes, "the conditions that exist today at the location are different than those that existed [when the tower was built]." Apparently, the park did not anticipate that "burned tree snags" on the site would eventually fall over or be blown down. In addition, the park itself removed some of the visual cover "during maintenance work."
Superintendent Lewis also announced a review of "the health and safety service levels for the public and the park." The park has other cell towers and cannot isolate the calls enabled by the Old Faithful tower. Nor has the park examined alternative means of communications for visitors and staff or determined whether cell phones are needed for public safety. "The most disturbing part of this after-the-fact public safety justification is that it implies that Yellowstone is willing to provide cell coverage throughout the entire park and especially in the backcountry," Ruch commented.
PEER is also targeting the exclusion of the public from decisions concerning the park. "After failing to post required notices for the tower when it was built, Yellowstone is repeating the error by doing its damage control in secret," added Ruch, who obtained Lewis's letter through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Read the letter from Yellowstone Superintendent Suzanne Lewis