District leaders are criticizing a provision in the D.C. budget passed by the Senate that orders the National Park Service to allow the erection of two cellular telephone towers in Rock Creek Park.
The National Capital Planning Commission voted Thursday night to table for the second time a decision on the towers. A majority of the commissioners on the regional advisory panel opposed the towers, according to commission Vice Chairman Patricia Elwood.
That same evening, however, Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) put an amendment into the $4.7 billion D.C. budget bill to give the Park Service 90 days to approve the project, initiated by Bell Atlantic Mobile. The amendment says the Park Service "may consider, but shall not be bound by, any decision or recommendation" of the planning commission.
"We still are second-class citizens," said Arrington L. Dixon, a mayoral appointee to the planning commission and a former D.C. Council chairman.
"Certainly the community made it pretty clear where they stood," Dixon said. "As much as they're into the environment and wildlife in South Dakota, they would probably go to war if someone tried to put a tower in a local park there."
Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) also opposed the plan in a letter to commission Chairman Harvey B. Gantt and Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt.
Peggy Armstrong, a spokeswoman for Williams, said the mayor and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) "did a lot of work through the budget process to make sure that the decisions that were made locally were honored on the Hill. This is not one of them."
Opponents of the towers include local residents and environmentalists, who cite their potential harm to migratory birds, their aesthetic impact and the fear of opening the park to more transmission towers.
"You'll have another steel forest of towers above the natural forest," said Jim Dougherty of the Sierra Club's D.C. chapter.
Elwood said the commission tabled the decision because it wanted to explore alternative technologies to the towers. "We were trying to get expert advice on the best way to do things," said Elwood, who lives near the park.
Bell Atlantic Mobile, based in Bedminster, N.J., wants the towers built so that its customers can maintain cellular phone access while passing through the park's hilly and rocky terrain. Bell Atlantic has the most customers of any cellular company in the Washington area, said Howard Woolley, a company spokesman.
Woolley also said that the towers had passed an environmental-impact study and that they would be located on two sites--near a tennis center on 16th Street and in a park maintenance lot--that are not pristine natural areas.
A new 100-foot pole would replace an existing 38-foot light pole at the tennis center, according to planning commission documents, and a 130-foot pole would be installed in the maintenance lot.
In his Senate speech last week, Daschle stressed the safety aspect of the debate and cited the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which requires that federal property be made available to services for wireless communication, if they are essential and environmentally sound.
But in the light of local criticism, the tower amendment likely will receive further scrutiny.
Lisette McSoud Mondello, a spokeswoman for Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.), who chairs the Senate subcommittee on D.C. appropriations, said that "the amendment came in late, the senator didn't support or oppose it, and it passed on a voice vote. It will obviously require fuller examination during the conference."
The House has not yet voted on its version of the D.C. budget.
CAPTION: Arrington L. Dixon, who serves on the D.C. planning commission, objects to the Senate move.
CAPTION: An artist's rendering shows how a cellular phone antenna mounted on a light pole would appear at the tennis center in Rock Creek Park.