Thursday, January 30, 2014

FCC Tower Expansion Plan Threatens Scenic Beauty

Cell-Towers-on-Prospect-MountainThe Adirondack Park Agency’s policy that keeps cell towers “substantially invisible” has been good for public safety and scenic vistas for 12 years now.  A proposed federal rule change threatens that policy and the wild beauty of the landscape it protects.

People who care about scenic beauty and historic preservation are joining forces to persuade the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) not to impose new rules that would allow cell phone companies to increase the height and visibility of communications towers without seeking permission from state or local regulators.

The FCC’s proposed rule would grant automatic approval for applicants seeking to increase the height and/or width of any existing communications tower, regardless of local policies and ordinances.

The rule would be of particular concern in the Adirondack Park, where tourism is the top industry and where local communities depend upon the wildness of the surrounding landscape.  The entire Adirondack Forest Preserve is a registered National Landmark.  Poorly sited tower expansions could harm the public’s view and enjoyment of this national treasure.  Nearly all of the park’s 130 villages and hamlets contain historic sites and buildings.

In 2002, the Adirondack Council and other advocates encouraged the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) to develop and adopt an outstanding policy for the review of communications towers.  The APA’s policy on Review of Telecommunications Towers and Other Tall Structures requires towers to remain “substantially invisible.” The APA has skillfully enforced this policy, while still acting quickly to approve new towers and expand communications facilities throughout the Park.

Cell phone companies and internet providers report no significant delays in the approval of their towers. The APA is maintaining a tally of cell tower applications and approvals on its web site’s home page, so the public can track its progress.

The proposed federal rule would wipe out the APA’s ability to enforce this policy if any proposed expansion meets certain criteria. Sadly, even minor increases in height can, in the wrong location, severely harm the scenic beauty of the Adirondacks and hurt its tourism-based economy.

The FCC is accepting comments on the proposal until February 3, 2014.  Anyone who wants to stop the FCC from implementing rules that would harm the Adirondack Park’s scenic beauty and natural character should write a letter or email to the FCC.

Anyone wishing to comment on the FCC plan should note:

  • A generic, nationwide plan for cell tower expansions will not work in places like the Adirondack Park that have valuable scenic and historic resources;
  • They should not wipe out the APA’s successful policy for the siting and modification to cell towers, which has protected the scenic beauty and ecology of the Adirondacks for 12 years, and,
  • The proposed rule should exempt those areas that have established standards for cell towers, such as the Adirondack Park.

The FCC public comment process is spelled out for this proposed rule under “ADDRESSES” in the FCC section of federal register for Dec. 5, 2013:

However, if you do not wish to file at least two (or as many as six) copies of your testimony, email your comments to The Adirondack Council, at and the Council will forward the proper number of copies (with the correct reference citations) to the FCC on your behalf.  Be sure to include your home mailing address in your email so the FCC knows you are a real person.

The comment deadline is Monday, Feb. 3, 2014.

Photo: Towers on Prospect Mountain in Lake George, installed before the current towers policy.

Related Stories

Willie Janeway is the Executive Director of the Adirondack Council, a privately funded, not-for-profit organization dedicated to ensuring the ecological integrity and wild character of the Adirondack Park.

The Council envisions a park composed of large wilderness areas, surrounded by working farms and forests and vibrant, local communities.

The Council carries out its mission through research, education, advocacy and legal action. Council members and supporters live in all 50 United States.

13 Responses

  1. Mark says:

    I must take exception to Willie Janeway’s article. The APA policy of substantial invisibility has done nothing to advance public safety interests. In fact, the policy has increased the cost of tower construction and hampered public safety goals that could have been more effectively achieved with somewhat taller towers.
    The proposed FCC regulations are really quite moderate in nature. The propose regulatory relief for simple changes to existing towers (e.g. changing antenna configuration) and they propose allowing small height changes. These changes may substantially reduce the permitting costs and provide relief from unnecessary regulatory review. I think they are a good start that don’t go far enough. I think there is a lot of room to provide additional relief. As an example, envision a summit that has three towers of differing heights. Only the tallest tower is minimally visible when viewed from surrounding recreational areas, an intensive use area, busy state highway and hamlet. Why not allow the existing towers to be built taller or replaced up to the height of the existing tower. Think of the tallest tower as an umbrella. The visual impact will be insignificant, but may not meet the, somewhat arbitrary, standard of substantial invisibility. The economic impacts will be significant.

  2. David says:

    Can’t we have a few place in the world which are not totally connected? Do people really need to have their cell phones and iPads out with them when they’ re out hiking in the wilderness ?

    • Ethan says:

      David, you’re joking, right? What about the people who live in the Park? They need cell coverage for their personal and professional lives.

      • Dan Murphy says:

        Ethan, apparently you didn’t get them memo.

        We need to starve these communities out, so when hikers come in once a year, they can have a pristine area, completely devoid of all humans.

        The park is for vacations, not for living.

  3. Ethan says:

    Mark I have to disagree with you. Willie is right. Note in his article that “Cell phone companies and internet providers report no significant delays in the approval of their towers.” So where are these extra costs you cite coming from? And do you have a source for them other than an industry flack?

    The towers are getting built, and they’re getting done in a way that doesn’t impact the main economic driver of the Adirondacks — tourism. No one looking to spend time away from the craziness of urban life wants to drive through a “wilderness” sprouting cell phone towers. The long-term economic impact to the North oods from a tourism reduction as the Park becomes less scenic is vastly greater than any economic increase because a cell tower was built slightly quicker and/or taller.

    I want to have cellphone coverage throughout the Park, too — just in a way that leaves intact the Park’s greatest asset.

    • Paul says:

      No significant delays in approval does not mean that there is not added costs to getting those approvals. I don’t imagine that these “site studies” that are required by the APA are without any cost? I am fine with the current approval process but it costs money even if it is done in a timely manner.

      Perhaps a taller more powerful cell tower might mean fewer towers in the long run. That might have a positive impact from a scenic perspective?

  4. Pete Klein says:

    Disclaimer – I don’t have a cell phone and don’t want one.
    If I did have a cell phone, I would only have it on when Me, Myself and I wanted to make a call.
    The thing I like best about my land line is its caller-ID feature which allows me to decide if I want to take a call or not.
    For all those of you who love to be constantly connected, don’t you ever talk about your rights to privacy. You give most of those up when you are connected to the world with your beloved cell phone.

  5. Bill Ott says:

    Could cell towers be made to look like the old fire towers that have been mostly removed? Would this be too expensive, or is it for some reason just a bad idea.

    • Paul says:

      Better looking than some of these “franken pine” towers! Those are just silly and they are so obviously not a tree.

  6. Mark says:

    The cellular carriers have been very diplomatic and , at times, just silent on the topic of permitting delays. They don’t want to risk political revenge from the permitting entity (note that I am NOT implying the APA would behave this way).
    Fire towers would be even more costly and more visible than simple towers. If one takes an honest look at most towers, they tend to blend in to the sky and if painted the proper color they really disappear even when built at an efficient height.
    For those who want to “unplug”; no one is holding a guy to your heads to carry hour phones. Turn them off! This has to do with public safety and removing just one of may obstacles that make living in the park challenging and costly.
    The good news is that the proposed FCC regs will be federal law that will trump state law and thus minimize the impacts of special interest groups.

    • Paul says:

      “minimize the impacts of special interest groups”? Have you ever been to Washington? I personally would rather decide more locally what I want the place to look like.

  7. zyxw says:

    Whatever my or your sensibilities about wireless communication devices they are here to stay and probably will replace most wired ones in the not-too-distant future. Personally, I think a few towers strategically located are much less intrusive on the environment than are endless phone poles stringing wires everywhere. But, on the other hand, many of the supposedly invisible towers are incredibly visible and pop out like sore thumbs when viewing a mountain vista. I would rather see fewer more effective towers than lots of small ones ruining the view in every direction. Utilizing existing towers with improved equipment seems to be the best compromise, even if it makes them somewhat more visible.

  8. Jim says:

    For those interested in commenting online directly at the FCC site, here is a direct link to a form for brief comments that does not require duplicates.

    The proposed rule is titled “Acceleration of Broadband Deployment by Improving Wireless Facilities Siting Policies”