Washington, DC, April 9, 2019 — Grand Teton National Park is poised to approve the biggest expansion of wireless facilities in any national park. Its approval process trampled federal law and agency policy, according to a complaint filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
In the past, every national park has limited expansion to one cell tower at a time. Grand Teton plans 13 new cell towers in 9 locations, plus 62 miles of fiber optic cable. This will essentially wire the entire road network in the park, and the towns in between.
Despite National Park Service (NPS) rules requiring a park to publicly post “before” and “after” coverage maps for each tower, Grand Teton has belatedly posted one largely indecipherable coverage map. In comments filed today at the close of the public comment period, PEER points out that –
- Nearly half of Grand Teton is recommended or potential wilderness, yet spillover into the backcountry is not discussed except to say that wiring the wild is not the plan’s intent. Nor does the park propose any measure to reduce spillover;
- The park plan does not address the existing problem of distracted drivers and collisions with park wildlife, and how it will be made worse from providing cell coverage on the park’s slick and mostly unlit roads, and
- The park labels its proposal a 20-year plan, but its consultant, in an e-mail, calls that “untenable,” given the speed of change in the telecom industry. For example, the plan makes no mention of the advent of 5G, which would require significantly upgraded infrastructure than what is planned.
“Without serious consideration, Grand Teton is throwing park values of untrammeled scenery, natural soundscape, and the serenity of solitude out the window,” stated PEER Executive Director Tim Whitehouse.
PEER is asking the Inspector General of the Interior Department to include Grand Teton in its ongoing audit and performance review of national park wireless operations. The PEER complaint points to Grand Teton violations of the National Environmental Policy Act, National Historic Preservation Act, and NPS policies as meriting external review.
“Grand Teton is a poster child for how park planning should not be done,” added Whitehouse, noting that Grand Teton Superintendent David Vela had been nominated to serve as NPS Director. “Superintendent Vela’s disregard of policies designed to protect park values and resources does not bode well for his taking the helm of the entire National Park Service.”