New & Noteworthy: 5G Tower, Abandoned Farm

Cell Tower Challenge: AT&T is suing Hawai‘i County in federal court over the denial of a permit to erect a cell phone tower in Puna. 

The complaint was filed July 2 in federal district court in Honolulu against the county and its Planning Department, and the Windward Planning Commission and its chair, Thomas Raffipiy. AT&T had sought a permit to erect a 105-foot-tall monopole, disguised as an evergreen tree (and called a “monopine”) on an area of about 1,000 square feet in part of a 20-acre lot in the Puna District subdivision of Hawaiian Paradise Park. 

On February 6, the commission held its first hearing on the application, which drew an unruly crowd of witnesses testifying against it and warning of radio waves, harm from 5G technology, and declining property values should the monopole be erected. The commission voted to take up the permit application again at its next meeting in light of questions about the location of the public notice sign. 

When the hearing resumed on March 5, still more testimony was allowed, repeat- ing the same issues. The commissioners voted to deny the permit, 4-0, with new questions raised about the validity of the AT&T lease with the homeowners’ association and concerns about the impact on a disused basketball court and playground if the monopole should fall. 

The complaint lists eight claims for relief, including the fact that the commission’s decision fell outside the 60-day timeline set in Hawai‘i Revised Statutes for approval of broadband-related permits. HRS 46-89 states, “If, on the sixty-first day, an application is not approved, approved with modification, or disapproved by the county, the application shall be deemed approved by the county.” 

The court has set a scheduling conference for August 20. 

On July 22, the Hawai‘i County Council adopted a resolution that asks telecommunications companies in the county to “cease the building of 5G wireless infrastructure until such technologies have been proven through independent research and testing to be safe to human health and the environment.” 

Abandoned Farm: On July 22, the board of the state Agribusiness Development Corporation voted to rescind its January 2014 approval of a license to Ohana Best, LLC for 160 acres in Whitmore, O‘ahu. The company last year sued the ADC in 1st Circuit Court for allegedly failing to provide an adequate source of water for farming, among other things, but no hearings have been held. 

Although it had taken steps to prepare the land for farming — grubbing it, filing a soil conservation plan, and installing roadways — Ohana Best never actually signed its license. 

“The property has since been abandoned and the improvements taken over by criminal trespassers,” ADC staff stated in a report to the board. It states that the agency has had to remove encampments, install gates and barriers, and hire special duty officers and private security to keep trespassers out. “ADC and HPD have also had to sort through dozens of abandoned and stolen vehicles that were illegally dumped on the property,” the report states. It adds that the agency has hired a contractor to dispose of the vehicles. 

The report also notes that a reservoir was completed on the site in June, but due to the COVID-19 crisis, water from it might not be available until August or September. 

Staff recommended rescinding the license “so that the land can be opened to farmers and/or contractors capable of immediately handling large acreage.” 

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