Death Valley National Park Seeks Input on Mormon Peak Right-of-Way
DEATH VALLEY, CA – Death Valley National Park seeks public input on a right-of-way permit application for continued operation and maintenance of an existing microwave relay facility on Mormon Peak. Without this communications relay facility, there would be no landline or cell phone connection in the park.
Due to Death Valley National Park’s remote location, there are no phone lines or fiber cables connecting it to the outside world. Instead, there are a series of facilities transmitting voice and data to and from the park using directional microwave antennas.
AT&T constructed the Mormon Peak facility in 1982. At the time it was on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management. In 1994, Congress transferred roughly one million acres of BLM land to Death Valley National Park, which included Mormon Peak. At the same time, Congress designated 93% of the park as wilderness, including Mormon Peak.
This created controversy because permanent structures and commercial activities are prohibited in wilderness. Congress resolved this conflict in 2019 by specifically authorizing operation and maintenance of the Mormon Peak telecommunications facility in the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act.
AT&T did not make substantial upgrades to the technology in use on Mormon Peak for many years due to the site’s wilderness status. As connectivity increased across the world, the total capacity through Mormon Peak is currently 90 mbps.
This is less than the bandwidth available to individual households in many areas, and it is split between land lines and two cell towers being used by 450 residents of Death Valley and thousands of park visitors. During high-use times, it is often not possible to make phone calls, even to request or coordinate emergency medical services.
AT&T’s proposed upgrades would increase the total bandwidth to 1.5 Gbps, and allow the cell towers at Furnace Creek and Stovepipe Wells to be added to the FirstNet system, which gives emergency responders priority use.
AT&T requests a right-of-way permit to operate, maintain, and upgrade the existing microwave facility. The existing 35-foot-tall lattice tower would remain. The existing equipment shelter would be removed and replaced by a 6-foot by 10-foot equipment shelter adjacent to the tower.
Existing solar panels on the tower would be replaced with larger solar panels. A lightning rod would be added and a directional microwave antenna. AT&T would use helicopters to access the roadless site.
Mormon Peak is in the southern Panamint Mountains. The 35-foot lattice tower is not visible to the naked eye from any of the popular viewpoints in the park.
Public comments can be made until May 10, 2022 online at https://parkplanning.nps.gov/