By Ruffin Prevost
Like most issues in Yellowstone National Park, cell phone coverage is controversial. It’s something some people want to see expanded, while others prefer the status quo, or even none at all. So any change in wireless communications coverage in the park is likely to bother someone.
The National Park Service is reviewing a proposal by Verizon Wireless to erect a new 100-foot cell phone tower in the Lake area. Service would cover Fishing Bridge, the Lake Hotel and surrounding developed Lake area, according to a statement released by the Yellowstone public affairs office.
Although the marina and campground at nearby Bridge Bay are not specifically mentioned in planning documents, a coverage map included with the proposal appears to show signal coverage at Bridge Bay and over much of the northern part of Yellowstone Lake.
The Lake/Fishing Bridge area is the only location in the park where construction of a new cell tower was permitted under the park’s Wireless Communications Services Plan Environmental Assessment. The Park Service will not be publishing new notices in the Federal Register about the Lake area wireless project, according to an amendment included with the proposal.
A statement released this week by the Park Service, along with the amended proposal, details that the structure would be a 100-foot tall, gray, steel lattice tower. A categorical exclusion for the project dated Oct. 13 states that “the tower and antenna mounts will be treated or painted so that they are non-reflective, and blend with background colors.”
Also included in the project is a proposed 12-by-26-foot, single-story equipment building, a propane generator, a 6-foot tall chain link fence enclosure, underground electrical power lines, and approximately 0.45 mile of communications circuit conduit buried under or directly adjacent to the existing service road and to the nearest telephone service utility pedestal in the housing area.
A crane and weather balloons were used to simulate the height of the proposed tower to ensure that it would not be visible from the nearby Lake Hotel, Fishing Bridge and Lake Lodge historic districts. The site was also selected to minimize the cell signal’s reach into the park’s backcountry.
According to planning documents, the tower will be visible from a portion of the Grand Loop Road through the Lake area, but only through a break in the trees.
The tower will extend approximately 30 feet above the surrounding tree canopy, according to planning documents, a necessity to allow other carriers to provide future service in the area without erecting additional towers.
The group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility objected to the tower this summer, saying the Park Service was not following its own policies before moving forward with the project. In a July statement, the group called the proposed tower a “100-foot monstrosity” that would mean “the incessant chirp of ringtones will be heard even in the remotest parts of Yellowstone.”
If the project is approved, construction would begin later this fall or in early 2013.
Additional details can be found on the Park Service website, where comments may also be submitted.
Written comments may can be mailed by Nov. 16 to Compliance Office, Attention: Lake Cell Tower Proposal, National Park Service, and P.O. Box 168, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming 82190.
Contact Ruffin Prevost at 307-213-9818 or [email protected].