The Windward Planning Commission next month will discuss plans to build a cell tower on a rural lot on Highway 130 north of Kalapana.
Telecommunications company AT&T submitted an application for a use permit to allow for the construction of an unmanned telecommunications facility — consisting largely of a single 100-foot tower with related equipment — within the Puna Forest Reserve.
The tower would be constructed within a 1,050-square-foot portion of a 441-acre lot located on Pahoa-Kalapana Road roughly midway between Pahoa and Kalapana.
While the lot appears to be uninhabited — tax records indicate it is owned by Sanford’s Service Center — the lot is near a pair of rural communities, Kamaili Homesteads to the north and Black Sand Beach Subdivision to the south.
This is the third proposal for such a tower AT&T has submitted to the Windward Planning Commission in the past year, with towers in Kurtistown and Hawaiian Paradise Park being approved in June and October, respectively.
However, those towers also faced substantial pushback from residents concerned about possible adverse health effects caused by cellular radiation, with scores of people testifying against the proposals during several commission meetings throughout the year.
While the communities near the third tower site do not appear to have unified community associations, John Petrella, a real estate agent who sells properties within Black Sand Beach Subdivision, said he expects the third tower will be similarly controversial among locals.
“I would just ask community activists to show me the dead birds, the dead animals from all the radiation,” Petrella said. “They can’t, because there aren’t any.”
Petrella, a former electrical engineer, said carrying a cellphone exposes a person to more radiation than walking 100 feet below a cell tower and that being concerned about the negligible radiation generated by a tower, compared to the general background radiation of everyday life, is like “seeing a kid at the top of Niagara Falls peeing over the edge and saying he’s contaminating the water.”
Federal laws prohibit a municipality from denying an application to a telecommunications facility solely based on health concerns, and federal and global health authorities have found no link between cellular radiation and adverse health effects in humans.
However, the World Health Organization is still assessing whether any long-term effects of mobile phone use exist.
The next meeting of the Windward Planning Commission will be Jan. 7.