Excessive Visibility & Coverage Footprint

Yellowstone’s Wireless Committee raised a number of valid concerns about the proposed cell tower at Lake, but each of these concerns was eventually pushed aside, including: 

Height of the cell tower:  The Wireless Committee had concerns with the proposed tower’s height from the beginning.  In 2009, before receiving the formal proposal, the Committee wrote that Verizon’s proposal for a 100’ tower “will be just above tree line.”  In 2010 the Committee added this:  “Should we state anything about the committee not [being] completely comfortable with a 100 foot tower for Lake?”

But in April 2011, a Verizon representative expressed concern about “the 10ft above canopy height restriction for the tower…”  Soon the Committee was discussing a tower 20ft above the canopy:  “Three companies should be able to co-locate on tower and stay within the 20 feet above tree height criteria.”

By 2012, the proposal had grown to 30 feet above the tree canopy.  The Park’s Wireless Plan (p. 44) does not allow a tower more than 20 feet above the surrounding tree height without a “detailed explanation of why a shorter installation is not feasible.”  Here’s what the Park provided as its “detailed” explanation a news release:

The height [of the tower] will benefit the environment by allowing co-location of additional communications equipment while avoiding the need to build new towers for additional communications needs in the future.”

Not only did this news release hardly offer a “detailed” explanation but this rationale more than begs the question – especially in a national park that was not supposed to have any cell towers or even antennas.  Nonetheless, the claim that erecting the Lake cell tower 30 feet above the surrounding trees will actually benefit Yellowstone’s environment was not further questioned.

Coverage Far Beyond “Developed Area”:  In November 2009, Verizon’s contractor expressed concern that if the tower was not high enough, there was “no chance at getting a signal to Bridge Bay where the boats are.”  The Wireless Committee’s Dustin Sene responds that “the wireless plan calls for service at the fishing bridge area and the lake hotel area only, we are not looking for service at bridge bay.”

In January 2010, the Wireless Committee re-emphasized the Park’s desire to limit coverage:  “Tower should be kept to absolute minimum height needed to provide coverage for developments only.”

By the time the tower was constructed in late 2013, it provided coverage at Bridge Bay as well as much of Yellowstone Lake itself, according to its coverage map

The record reflects no further consideration of the Wireless Committee’s concerns, suggesting that Verizon was the real decision-maker all along.

Tower Visibility:  The NPS Management Policies from 2006 state: 

“If a traditional tower is necessary, it should not be visible from any significant public vantage point.”

Add to that requirement the commitment made by Yellowstone officials in the Wireless Plan of 2008-09 (p. 27):  that any cell tower built at Lake “would be hidden from view of developed areas, the Grand Loop Road, and area hiking trails.”

The Lake cell tower was constructed in the fall of 2013.  On November 5, 2013, Ana Campoy of the Wall Street Journal reported on this controversial new tower, and two photos of the silvery structure were posted at the Journal’s website (wsj.com).  One is taken from out on Yellowstone Lake, the other from in front of Lake Lodge. Both photos show that the tower is strikingly visible from these locations, belying the NPS promise that a new traditional tower would not be visible from “any significant public vantage point.” 

From how many other areas will the Lake cell tower be visible?  Please let us know where and when you see it while next in the Lake area.