The Windward Planning Commission on Thursday approved an application for the construction of a 5G cellular tower on a rural lot near Leilani Estates.
Telecommunications company AT&T filed the application last year to erect a 100-foot-tall tower within a 441-acre property located about half a mile south of Leilani Estates on Pahoa-Kalapana Road. Including related equipment such as a generator, the total footprint of the site would be 1,050 square feet, located about 420 feet from Pahoa-Kalapana Road.
AT&T site acquisition specialist Andrew Tomlinson told the commission Thursday that the proposed site — partially a quarry owned by Sanford Service Center, near the 1955 lava flow and adjacent to the Puna Forest Reserve — was identified by the telecommunications company as ideal to fill its 4G coverage gaps in Puna. However, the facility will also use low-band 5G frequencies “in support of the next generation of wireless technology,” according to the application.
Cell towers in general and 5G in particular have been contentious topics at the Windward Planning Commission during the past few years. A pair of proposed AT&T cell towers in Kurtistown and Hawaiian Paradise Park last year received significant public outcry by residents concerned by the potential ill effects of cellular radiation and 5G devices — although those towers were not 5G-equipped.
The commission approved the Kurtistown and HPP towers in June and October, respectively.
Likewise, the Leilani Estates tower received pushback during Thursday’s meeting, despite the relative lack of nearby residential areas — the tower is about half a mile south of the low-density rural community Kamaili Homesteads and about a mile north of Black Sand Beach Subdivision.
One testifier, Leila Kealoha, said the proposed site is “basically just across from (her) house” and poses unwanted hazards to the community and wildlife of the area.
In particular, the proximity of the site to the Puna Forest Reserve was a sticking point for testifiers. Resident Crystal Schiszler said the radiation emitted from cell towers “routinely exceed” limits set by the Federal Communications Commission and could pose dangers to endangered fauna or ohia trees within the reserve.
“You may not see it right now, you might not see it in two, three years, but when you look down the road, this magnetic field you’re going to create is going to mess up the migrations of the birds, it’s going to kill off the bees,” said resident Jose Romero.
“You guys need to stand up for something right in your life, and not (expletive) harm the environment,” Romero added, concluding that the commission is “a bunch of corrupt people anyways.”
So far, no health organization of repute has confirmed a connection between the radiation levels emitted by 5G cell towers and harmful health effects.
Tomlinson reiterated aspects of the application specifying that steps will be taken at each stage of the tower’s construction to minimize impacts on endangered species — for example, minimizing the clearing of trees during the Hawaiian hoary bat’s birthing and rearing season, conducting nest survey’s during the Hawaiian hawk breeding season and the total cessation of any construction work whenever nene approach the scene.
However, in an effort to reduce the need for future towers, Commissioner Joseph Clarkson proposed an amendment to the application that would require the tower to be capable of supporting a second radio array equivalent to the one proposed by AT&T, which would allow other telecommunications companies to add onto the tower in the future, rather than build their own. Tomlinson said AT&T was amenable to such a change.
The commission voted unanimously in favor of the amended application.
Email Michael Brestovansky at firstname.lastname@example.org.