According to a release by the National Park Service (NPS), Verizon Wireless is proposing to construct a 138-foot cellular tower within Sequoia National Park to improve coverage in the area. The cell tower, if approved, would potentially be built “to simulate a pine tree.”
The proposed construction area sits near Wuksachi Village in an established utility site at the end of an existing paved access road, and would affect approximately 0.23 acres (10,120 square feet) of park land. The goal of the project is to provide year-round coverage to a portion of the Generals Highway, the Wuksachi Village area, the Lodgepole area and the Wolverton area.
The press release by the NPS describes the cell tower: “Antennas would be directed, as much as possible, away from the wilderness. A 138-foot tall tower with panel antennas and microwave dishes, potentially constructed to simulate a pine tree, mounted on a 4 to 5-foot diameter footer.”
For reference, the Sequoia trees of Sequoia National Park reach upwards of 200 feet and are among the oldest and tallest in the world. The park also bills itself as a place where you can totally “embrace the escape” with limited cell and WiFi access. This plan would certainly sit on the opposite side of that sentiment.
In the release, the NPS admits that it is merely “considering the issuance of a right-of-way permit to Verizon Wireless to construct, operate and maintain a wireless telecommunications facility” at this time.
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 made it so the NPS must consider any and all project proposals for telecommunications towers on federal land. This was followed by a fierce competition by telcom companies like AT&T, Verizon and others courting the most popular national parks to build cell towers. All done without specific policies for doing so in place, as many national parks have not released policy plans for cell tower projects.
According to a story by Government Technology at the end of 2017, “Because the National Park Service is highly decentralized, NPS headquarters does not track construction of cellular towers in parks nationwide. Nor has it developed a national policy to guide parks superintendents in reviewing such proposals.”
That story, along with other reports, has gathered information about how plenty of cell towers have been built in national parks (some unknowingly) since then. And a proposed bill in the House (The Public Lands Telecommunications Act) aims to let individual parks keep the rental fees they collect for cell towers built within their boundaries.
The NPS has initiated the public scoping phase on the Verizon-Sequoia proposal, which means that public comments can now be submitted until midnight on May 4. The next phase is the environmental assessment, which will be coordinated by the park itself. A final decision on the cell tower project will be made by the end of this summer.
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