PRESS RELEASE

National Park Cell Tower Violations Pile Up

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For Immediate Release: Thursday, July 23, 2020
Contact: Jeff Ruch (510) 213-7028; Kirsten Stade kstade@peer.org

National Park Cell Tower Violations Pile Up

Lawsuit and Audit to Expose Shady Telecom Deals with National Parks

Washington, DC — One year after an Interior Inspector General (IG) report slammed national parks for improperly allowing telecoms to install cell towers and other wireless facilities in violation of laws and policies, the violations continue unabated, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The group is highlighting ongoing violations, asking the IG to audit the parks again, and suing to force release of documents.

Laws require national parks to assess impacts on the park environment and historic/cultural resources, yet national parks often illegally waive mandated assessments and consultations. National Park Service (NPS) policies requiring early public notification and a transparent review, including display of coverage maps and other relevant information, are also routinely flouted.

In response to the July 2019 IG audit finding widespread violations, NPS vowed to implement a series of reforms, some by October 1 of this year. Yet during the past year, several parks have proceeded with cellular and Wi-Fi installations in violation of the same transparency and revenue collection requirements the IG audit cited.

Today, PEER is taking several actions, including –

  • Filing a federal Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against five parks for failing to produce documents they are required to publicly display. The five parks are Olympic, Lake Mead, Bryce Canyon, Crater Lake, and Grand Teton – the latter of which PEER had sued in 2018 to force disclosure of plans to install 13 new cell towers;
  • Revealing that Yellowstone has never issued rights-of-way for several wireless facilities, and has failed to properly assess costs, thus handing telecoms unwarranted subsidies; and
  • Asking the IG to re-audit the parks that are apparently ignoring its findings.

“Parks should not have to be sued to force disclosure of information that official policies require be publicly displayed,” stated Pacific PEER Director Jeff Ruch. “The deals that national parks are cutting with telecoms need to be ventilated, not hidden.”

Zion National Park is another case in point. That park has approved a Verizon cell tower to be housed within a more than 36-foot “stealth structure.” Zion will not release details of the plan without permission from Verizon. PEER is preparing to sue Zion to obtain the documents.

“The fact that supposedly impoverished national parks are approving cell tower pagodas in secret during a pandemic is mind boggling,” added Ruch, noting that violations at Grand Teton were largely committed by David Vela, who was then promoted to NPS Deputy Director. “The Park Service’s continuing leadership vacuum perpetuates an almost total lack of accountability by park superintendents who face no consequences for violations.”

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Look at the critical IG audit

Read PEER’s letter listing recent and ongoing violations

View the PEER lawsuit

See Yellowstone’s tree-cutting fiasco

Find out about Zion’s plan to build a cell tower pagoda

Examine oft-ignored NPS policies governing wireless approvals