WPR News
3:11 pm
Mon September 13, 2004

Yellowstone Accused of Pocketing Cell Tower Lease Money

Washington, DC – Yellowstone National Park has been accused of illegally pocketing money from cell phone tower leases. The Washington, DC group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, or PEER, is making that claim. According to PEER, the law requires most of the money from a lease of park land to go the US Treasury. Only administration costs can stay in the park But PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch says documents they've obtained show that Yellowstone deposited money from Western Wireless into a Livingston, Montana bank, then drew on that account to pay for staff salaries and equipment. Ruch says this practice creates an incentive to say yes to these types of lease applications. Yellowstone Spokesman Al Nash says the park's first cell towers were allowed under Special Use Permits, which allow the park to keep all fees. He says later guidance from Washington told them to use a different permitting process. Nash is unsure exactly when that guidance came down, and says the question now is by changing their permitting process, what is the proper use of those funds? Still, documents released by PEER show the Park using Western Wireless lease money for salaries as recently as July of this year.