No Relocation of Old Faithful Tower

As recounted elsewhere on this site, Yellowstone officials made numerous blunders in approving the Old Faithful tower, which was constructed in 2001 on a hill near the area’s water tank.  Ever since those missteps were exposed, the Park has been backpedaling:

  • In 2004, Park officials removed a “big platform” from the tower;
  • Then in 2005, they removed the top twenty feet of the tower to make it less visible from various vantage points in the Old Faithful National Historic District; and

Despite the Park’s concerns, in Spring 2014 Yellowstone officials received a proposal from AT&T seeking to place a temporary cell tower at the Old Faithful water treatment plant site.  The formal application (p. 1) provides that this “temporary deployment will be for six months and test feasibility for a potential future permanent facility.” It adds that the site “will not cause a substantial visual impact.

The Park is in a bind because AT&T’s antennas cannot be added to the existing Verizon tower without making that one (the one they’ve promised to have moved) more visible.  To make the current “temporary” proposal palatable, AT&T wrote that the Verizon tower is “not the preferable location” for new antennas and that this new tower could be used in the future to re-locate “the existing Verizon equipment,” making it possible to “deconstruct the existing tower.”

Park officials must be certain, through the NEPA and NHPA process, that the new tower is less visible than the current one before approving it.  Balloon tests were scheduled to occur on June 9, 2014.  We look forward to reviewing the test results as well as the rest of the application when the public is asked to comment. 

Regardless of the Park’s determination about the visibility of the proposed tower, it is important to remember that the Wireless Plan simply does not provide for two cell towers at Old Faithful.  The Chairman of Yellowstone’s Wireless Committee, Bret DeYoung, acknowledged this fact in an interview in October 2012 with the Jackson Hole News & Guide. When the Lake cell tower was proposed in 2012, DeYoung stated that that tower would be the last piece of Yellowstone’s wireless infrastructure to be constructed.  “That’ll be it,” DeYoung told the Jackson Hole newspaper. “All the ones that are detailed in the Yellowstone Communications EA are already in existence.”

Park officials have long asserted that the water treatment plant site would not be a visual improvement over the current water tank site, so they bear a heavy burden in convincing the public that the new temporary cell tower at that location should be approved.

As the years have gone by, it increasingly appears that the Park’s promise to relocate the Old Faithful tower is yet another mitigation measure that will never be executed.