If all I knew about the two new cellular phone antennas planned for Rock Creek Park was what I read in The Post, I would be skeptical about the project myself ["D.C. Loses Voice on Phone Antennas: Senate Allows Towers in Park," Metro, July 5].
Unfortunately, The Post's account of the Senate's decision to allow the antennas to be built ignores some key information. Because I added the language supporting better cellular phone service to the D.C. appropriations bill, I'd like to set the record straight.
First, the fact that you can't use a cell phone in much of Rock Creek Park isn't just an inconvenience; it's a public safety hazard. According to the U.S. Park Police, more than 3,500 criminal and safety incidents -- including 348 violent crimes -- have occurred in the park over the past five years. Without cell phone service, victims or good Samaritans cannot call 911. That's why the U.S. Park Police and the D.C. police union -- along with emergency medical groups, joggers, cyclists and other park users -- strongly endorse the proposal to build the antennas.
Second, the proposed antennas have cleared every legal hurdle necessary for approval and, in fact, already have been tentatively approved by the National Park Service. In addition, studies have shown that the antennas -- which would be built on already developed areas, the tennis court complex and a maintenance yard -- will not harm the park's environment or its aesthetics.
Third, as the story notes, the 1996 Telecommunications Act specifically requires that federal property be made available to services for wireless communication if those services are responsible and environmentally sound. This case clearly meets those standards. Yet the application to build the antennas has languished now for more than five years. This is unreasonable and unsafe. By directing the National Park Service to finalize its tentative approval of the antennas, the Senate simply was acting to make sure the current law is enforced.
Finally, the park is located in the District, but it is a federal park. Congress should be responsive to the concerns of District officials and residents. But in the end, Congress has a responsibility to promote public safety on federal lands throughout the United States.
Making decisions in a democracy almost always involves balancing competing interests. In this case, the Senate was trying to balance the concerns of some about the antennas with the need to protect the thousands of people who use the park every day. We may not have made everyone happy, but I think we struck the right balance. I hope Mayor Williams and others eventually will agree.
U.S. Senator (D-S.D.)