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Group charges tower too close to Old Faithful

WASHINGTON-The National Park Service has violated the law in allowing the construction of an 80-foot cell phone tower in close proximity to Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

According to PEER, the tower was built by Western Wireless Corp. in 2001 following approval of Michael Snyder of the NPS regional office in Denver. PEER claims Snyder’s approval of the tower build ignored the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the National Historic Preservation Act of 1965, and the NPS’ 1916 Organic ACT, which calls for the agency to conserve park scenery. Western Wireless did not immediately return requests for a comment regarding the tower build.

PEER objects to the “tower in the park,” not the “height of the tower in the park,” clarified Dennis McKinney of PEER. McKinney said the group does not believe cell-phone use is appropriate in the parks. “We’re talking about the death of solitude,” he said, adding that the larger issue is that there has been no effort by NPS to involve the public in weighing the issues at stake.

PEER pointed out a comment from a report from the House Commerce Committee dated July 1995 relating to the 1996 telecom act: “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.”

In addition, PEER said NPS failed to file a written notice in the Federal Register that it was considering approving the tower, as required by law.

Earlier this year Judy Wolf, review and compliance program manager of the Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office, wrote to the NPS at Yellowstone urging the agency to “reduce or eliminate this adverse effect” caused by the tower in the Old Faithful Historic District. Wolf pointed out that the tower does not comply with the preferred alternative site that was submitted by the group in 1999, and would have had no adverse effect on the area.

PEER recently filed a Freedom of Information Act request with NPS to locate all cell-phone towers in the park system and to find out how much revenue they were generating for the park. NPS responded “they had no idea” how many towers were in the parks, or where, or what revenue they were generating, according to McKinney. PEER has now filed FOIA requests with the park’s regional offices.

As an aside, the Federal Communication Commission is expected to soon reach an agreement with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. The programmatic agreement is being drafted in an effort to streamline the historic-preservation review process for wireless facilities. The FCC said recently that the draft programmatic agreement would over-rule ACHP’s proposed rules to implement the National Historic Preservation Act. The wireless industry last month dropped out of the negotiations.


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