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Washington, DC October 30, 2017 – In violation of both federal laws and agency policies, Yosemite National Park has allowed construction of six cellular towers and has approvals for more in the works, according to internal park documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Yosemite also claims to own four of the towers, putting it into the telecom business, yet it lets Verizon collect rent from companies co-locating on those towers.
Without any of the required public notice and comment, Yosemite began signing off on the erection of commercial cell towers in the 1990s and continues to allow stealth expansion and upgrade of cell structures to this day. Yosemite officials also appear to have improperly waived statutorily mandated environmental and historical reviews. Further, the park has not even been issuing the correct form of approvals, violating several National Park Service (NPS) rules governing issuance of right-of-ways.
“Yosemite thought it was a good idea to pit Nature against Netflix,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose group has asked Interior’s Office of Inspector General (IG) to review all national park cell tower approvals. “Not only is the public unaware, but Park Service headquarters is also in the dark and does not even track, let alone evaluate, cell towers springing up in parks across the country.”
While focused on Yosemite, PEER’s complaint to the IG points out that many national parks routinely –
- Fail to undertake required assessments of environmental or historical impacts and ignore NPS policies requiring parks to preserve natural vistas and soundscapes;
- Neglect to even ascertain towers’ coverage and whether signal spillover blankets park backcountry or wilderness. Nor do parks look at signals on park roads leading to distracted driver accidents. Instead, parks leave it up to the commercial carriers to decide the signal footprint; and
- Approve individual towers without any overall plan, thus ceding management decisions to the telecom companies.
In addition, there are revenue implications. For example, Yosemite is confused about who is supposed to own the towers and who pockets rental income from other companies who co-locate on the towers.
“Not only is this a helluva way to run a railroad, but Yosemite does not even know who owns the trains,” added Ruch, noting the tendency of many national park superintendents to ensure every square inch of their park has a strong 4-G signal, thus creating conflict between connectivity and serenity in remote corners of wired parks. “Visitor convenience should be secondary to protecting park values, such as scenery, soundscapes, and the ability to commune with nature. Striking the right balance requires careful planning – a commodity in short supply across much of our park system.”