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Yellowstone Cellphone Tower to Get Makeover

But activists say the device near Old Faithful should be removed -- not just shortened and toned down.

June 12, 2005|From Associated Press

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyo. — A 100-foot cellular-phone tower near Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone National Park will be shortened and camouflaged this week, but a government watchdog group says that's not good enough.

The tower, owned by Western Wireless of Bellevue, Wash., stands south of Old Faithful in an area burned by the wildfires of 1988. Surrounding dead trees are falling, leaving the tower more exposed.

Crews will knock 20 feet off the top of the tower and treat it to reduce its silvery shine, park spokeswoman Cheryl Matthews said last week.

Shortening it will reduce its visibility and bring the tower into compliance with a 1999 environmental assessment of the area, Yellowstone Superintendent Suzanne Lewis wrote in a memo this year.

She said she ordered the changes because of "negative visual impacts and comments from the public."

The height and location of the cellphone tower touched off a debate last year about cellphone towers in other national parks. Yellowstone has five towers, all in developed areas, and companies have applied to install three more.

Matthews said cellphone use was an important safety feature for park visitors and employees. But an activist group, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, based in Washington, D.C., wants the Old Faithful tower removed.

"The towers are being put up for commercial reasons, not for public safety," said Jeff Ruch, the group's executive director.

Ruch said that rangers' radios reached everywhere in the park and that cellphones only further cluttered the airwaves. But Matthews said that radio traffic could be hard to break through in busy months and that federal law prohibited some medical information from being sent via radio.

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