AT&T wants to place 5G tower on Saddle Road

  • Tribune-Herald file photo A car passes by a speed limit sign on Saddle Road.

Telecommunications company AT&T is seeking to erect a cell tower on the Daniel K. Inouye Highway about 13 miles from Waikoloa Village.

The Windward Planning Commission on Thursday will discuss an application by AT&T for a use permit to build a 105-foot cell tower on a lot near the 44-mile marker on the highway.

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The property chosen for the tower also is the site of the Kilohana Girl Scout Camp, with the tower itself to be constructed 112 feet from the camp’s main lodge building.

Shari W. Chang, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Hawaii, wrote in early May to the Windward Planning Committee in support of the project and approved the site for the tower’s use.

“We feel this project will be an asset to the community, and we look forward to the project completion,” Chang’s letter stated. “We also look forward to the educational learning experience that this project will bring to our Hawaii Island Girl Scouts as we focus on the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) in workforce development for young girls and the contribution of STEM to our community’ s future.”

According to documents submitted to the Planning Commission, the tower — which will be disguised as a tree — is intended to expand commercial wireless phone service along the highway between Waimea and the Pohakuloa Training Area, while also improving the connectivity of AT&T’s network of towers within the state.

The tower also will serve as a platform to expand AT&T’s fifth-generation, or 5G, network. The tower will utilize a low-band frequency of 850 megahertz to maximize the facility’s coverage range. AT&T’s cell towers, and 5G technology in general, have become a controversial topic at Planning Commission meetings, with proposed towers in Puna attracting scores of testifiers in opposition to the projects. Most opposition has come from people concerned about possible negative health impacts caused by cellular radiation in general and 5G in particular.

However, no connection between radiation generated by 5G cell towers and harmful health effects in humans has so far been found by any health organization of repute. Moreover, an assessment of the Kilohana Camp tower site found that the maximum cumulative radio frequency exposure at the base of the tower will be less than 1% of the limits established by the Federal Communications Commission.

Federal laws prohibit a municipality from denying an application for a telecommunications facility solely based on health concerns. Of the three cell towers considered by the Windward Planning Commission in the last two years — one in Kurtistown, one in Hawaiian Paradise Park and one north of Kalapana — only one was denied out of concerns that it could fall on a nearby playground, but a September 2020 court order forced the commission to reconsider, and ultimately approve, that tower.

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The tower proposed for Kilohana camp will be one of four items on the agenda of the commission, which meets Thursday at 9 a.m. The public can view the meeting at tinyurl.com/5msdfcjj.

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

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