The National Park Service has announced its decision to grant right-of-way permits to Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile, allowing the wireless carriers to install limited range wireless communications facilities inside Mount Rainier National Park.
In its Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for the Paradise Cellular Environmental Assessment, the NPS states that “no significant impacts on the quality of the human environment will occur” due to the permits granted to Verizon and T-Mobile. AT&T also submitted an application and may be added to the project, pending final review.
Instead of a cell tower, all communications equipment (aside from small, roof-mounted GPS antennas) will be installed in the attic of the Jackson Memorial Visitor Center in Paradise. The FONSI states that the purpose of the installation is to “provide year-round 24-hour-per-day public wireless telecommunications service to the Paradise developed area.”
As stated in its FONSI, the NPS does not advocate for increased cellular service in remote, secluded regions of national parks. Paradise, however, is Mount Rainier National Park’s most popular and heavily-used area. It saw approximately one million visitors last year, and can see up to 9,000 guests on its busiest days.
The NPS addressed concerns that park scenery may be harmed by its decision, stating, “No prime farmlands, wetlands, wild and scenic rivers, or ecologically critical areas will be affected,” and that “the project design effectively mitigates effects to the scenic and historic resources at Paradise by requiring installation of the facilities within an existing non-historic structure.”
Still, significant opposition to the granting of right-of-way permits does exist. During review periods in 2016 and 2017, the NPS received 893 pieces of public correspondence, more than 500 of which were opposed to the permits.
“Improved cellular service may enhance or detract from visitors’ experience at Paradise and adjacent wilderness, depending on their personal subjective expectations of a satisfactory outdoor experience,” the FONSI states. “Mount Rainier National Park’s position is that improved cellular service will provide opportunities to more easily and quickly communicate park conditions to visitors, including real-time information on parking, traffic, weather and hazardous conditions.”
The NPS also stated it will work to educate the public on considerate use of cell phones in shared public spaces.
Currently, there is no timeline for when the new facilities will be installed or for when cell service will become available.