Out & About: Blanket phone coverage proposed for parks
Sun., July 2, 2017
OUTCALLING – Proposals for increased cell phone coverage in Mount Rainier, Yellowstone and several other national parks have opened for another round of public comment, with constituents divided on the issue in a previous comment period last year.
Yellowstone National Park would be blanketed with strong 4G cell coverage under a multisite expansion entering its final approval phase, according to comments filed this week by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
New commercial structures would rise above four Yellowstone sites, and would transform scenic Mt. Washburn, the park’s highest point, into a hulking telecommunications bunker bristling with antennas.
Mount Rainier also would have increased coverage, but the current proposals call for no new cell towers within the park boundaries.
Backcountry purists argue against increased coverage in wilderness areas of the parks while some people point out the potential safety advantages.
Yellowstone released a plan for environmental review this spring but had to reopen comments to consider adverse impacts of new towers, dishes and antennas on historic structures and view-sheds.
“There is little evidence that increased cell coverage increases safety but there is ample evidence that drivers on poorly lit, winding park roads distracted by their devices are a hazard,” added Jeff Ruch, PEER executive director. “By acceding to industry pressure for more coverage, park superintendents are wiring their wild lands with little thought toward preserving the values that make these cathedrals of nature so special.”
Preliminary public comments solicited last year for Mount Rainier by the National Park Service showed a divide – of 492 comments, 249 people supported more connectivity on the mountain for emergency reasons and severe weather warnings. However, more than 200 people (including PEER), told park officials that cell equipment and increased connectivity while inside the park would contradict the peaceful, tranquil wilderness settings.
The public comment period for Rainier, ending on July 19, is the last opportunity for input before the National Park Service makes a final decision on the proposal.
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