Residents critical of AT&T cell tower proposal

  • A proposed AT&T cellphone tower like this one to be built in Kurtistown generated public outcry Thursday.

A proposed AT&T cellphone tower to be built in Kurtistown generated public outcry Thursday after the telecommunications company apparently failed to provide proper notice to nearby residents.

At Thursday’s meeting of the Windward Planning Commission, dozens of concerned residents gathered to oppose an application by AT&T to construct a 180-foot-tall monopole cell tower on an agricultural lot located near Kamehameha Schools Hawaii.

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Andrew Tomlinson, site acquisition specialist for AT&T, said the location was specifically chosen so that it would fill a gap in coverage around the Kurtistown area and provide a reliable network for emergency services. He added that no other towers are located in the area that could also fulfill AT&T’s needs.

While much of the public testimony cited fears that such a cell tower will generate cancer-causing radiation — according to the American Cancer Society, there is very little evidence to support such a fear — others argued that AT&T failed to properly notify the public about its plans.

Resident Prescott Ellwood said the public notice posted by AT&T near the site was not placed on a public road as required by law, but was instead placed at the end of a poorly maintained private road that is barely visited by the community the road surrounds.

Ellwood also said cell towers interfere with the use of aerial drones, which farmers in the area increasingly rely upon.

Ellwood pointed out that the neighborhood proposed to house the tower is predominantly low-income, so fewer residents would be financially secure enough to spend time protesting the plan. He also noted that mailing an appeal would cost more than $200 in filing fees.

“Either they didn’t do any research before they proposed this, or they did a lot of research and they’re redlining us,” Ellwood said, referring to a systematic withholding of services to predominantly black and low-income communities endemic throughout the mid-20th century.

Fellow resident Eddie Clark said that, regardless of whether cell towers are dangerous or not, the perception that they are will negatively impact the community. Cellphone towers frequently lower surrounding property values, while crops grown in a tower’s vicinity may be viewed with concern, he added.

Clark also doubted a claim by Tomlinson that the tower will run silently. Because of the area’s propensity to lose power, the tower will require noisy generators to consistently run, which will further degrade the value of the area, he said.

“This is my life savings invested in this place,” Clark said. “Everything I’ve ever worked for is right here.”

The right-of-way into the property was also called into question.

The primary access road, which encircles the nearby community and is used by many of its residents, is, according to Hawaii real property tax records, co-owned by one of the owners of the tower’s proposed site. However, Ellwood said the deed to his property suggests that all property owners on the road have co-equal ownership of that road.

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Questioning the validity of AT&T’s notification process, commissioner Joseph Clarkson moved to continue the application until a later meeting, giving the telecommunication company a chance to properly notify surrounding residents. The commission voted unanimously in favor of that motion.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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