California Cell Tower Company Asks Judge To Block Wapiti Residents From Joining Lawsuit

A California cellphone tower company on Friday asked a federal judge not to let several Wapiti, Wyoming, residents join the company's lawsuit against Park County to keep a nearly 200-foot tower out of the pristine Wapiti Valley.

CM
Clair McFarland

July 17, 20234 min read

A cell tower is inserted into the Wapiti Valley in this Cowboy State Daily illustration.
A cell tower is inserted into the Wapiti Valley in this Cowboy State Daily illustration. (Cowboy State Daily Illustration)

A California cellphone tower company that wants to build a 195-foot monopole in Wyoming’s Wapiti Valley does not want the valley’s residents to fight the cellphone tower’s construction in court.  

Horizon Tower sued the Park County Commission in March because the Commission denied Horizon’s special-use permit request to build a 195-foot monopole cellphone tower for Verizon and other service carriers in the sweeping Wapiti Valley.  

Horizon argues in its complaint that the federal Communications Act requires Park County to let cell service providers fix “significant” gaps in cellular service by building wireless facilities in the least intrusive areas available.   

The company Friday asked the U.S. District Court not to let a group of Wapiti residents join the lawsuit on the county’s side. 

The residents wanting to intervene are Brian Clarkson, Erik Kinkade, Lucinda and Kurt Countryman, Hannah Vorhees and Jim Wilder, Michael Gimmeson, Robert A. Nelson, College Monahan, and the Wapiti Valley Preservation Group Inc.  

They asked the court last month to let them intervene in the case to defend the area’s pristine landscape. The tower is “a monstrous structure that will forever despoil one of our country’s grandest and most spectacular vistas,” according to the intervenors’ motion to join the lawsuit. “The cell tower has been vociferously opposed by virtually all residents of this tiny community.”  

At least one resident appears not to oppose the tower construction. Landowner Tamara Young entered into a lease agreement with Horizon Aug. 15, 2022. Horizon applied for the special use permit Oct. 17. The county denied the request unanimously in a Feb. 7 vote.  

Wapiti Folk Not Buying It 

The intervenors do not believe Horizon’s argument that the proposed site is the least intrusive technologically feasible solution to add cellphone service to the area.  

“Incredibly,” reads the proposed intervenors’ filing, “Horizon asserts that, after evaluating all possible properties ‘within the search area’ — as unilaterally defined by Verizon — the only viable site for a Verizon wireless facility within the 16.5 miles of vast open lands from Verizon’s next closest antenna to Wapiti is (this) solitary site” on the North Fork Highway outside of Cody.  

The tower is not in harmony with the surrounding lands, will disrupt the beauty, diminish property values and cheat the residents, the filing alleges.  

Sorry, Late 

Horizon says the people of Wapiti are too late to ask for entry into the lawsuit.  

They filed their petition roughly four months after Horizon filed its complaint, though this case should be “expedited,” says Horizon’s Friday filing opposing the intervention.  

There were other arguments where Horizon and the Wapiti landowners butted heads. Namely: 

  • Wapiti residents say their interests diverge enough from Park County’s interest in protecting the public to warrant the intervention, while Horizon denies this.

  • Wapiti residents say they are petitioning early in the case and aren’t too late.

  • Wapiti residents say it’s appropriate for the court to let them into the lawsuit on its own discretion either way, which Horizon disputes, calling that option “not appropriate.”  

The Wapiti residents “have already succeeded in their quest to have the Park County (Commission) deny Horizon’s application to install a wireless communications facility,” says Horizon’s opposition, a protest referring to numerous resident letters and in-person protests the commission reviewed when considering Horizon’s special-use permit request.  

U.S. District Court Judge Alan B. Johnson, who is overseeing the case, has not yet ruled on the intervention request.  

That’s Not Enough 

The county could settle by letting Horizon build a shorter, or camouflaged, tower, according to the Wapiti residents. But that’s not enough for them, says their petition, arguing that they must enter the case to prevent such a settlement, to prevent “this 195-foot tall monstrosity from ever defiling their sanctuary.”  

Horizon doubts that the county will settle.  

“The County has shown a willingness to fight,” reads Horizon’s opposition.  

Whether the Wapiti residents have interests to advance that the county does not is a key point in whether Johnson may let them into the case.   

Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.

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CM

Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter