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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Fake tree may hide new cellular tower

By James Gonser
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

A nationwide trend of disguising cellular phone antennas will result in the state's first "stealth pine tree" at Kalihi Elementary School.

An 80-foot fake pine tree is being proposed as a mask for a tower holding antenna for radio and cellular transmissions.
VoiceStream Wireless, also known as T-Mobile, has filed an environmental assessment for the $95,000 project with the state to erect an 80-foot metal and nylon tree in the northeast corner of the school's campus.

The Kalihi Valley Neighborhood Board voted unanimously to support the project last year saying it works for both the community and the school, according to chairwoman Maryrose McClelland.

"Their company has done this at schools on the Mainland with stealth trees," McClelland said. "We thought it would be a good solution here. They can share space with other cellular companies and the school will benefit."

But Outdoor Circle Chief Executive Officer Mary Steiner said the idea of a stealth pine tree tower at the elementary school was "appalling."

"Our position is that cell sites can be designed that are cohesive with their environment," Steiner said. "Having an 80-foot stealth pine does not sound to me like it is going to blend with the environment at all."

How to offer your opinion

To comment on Voicestream Wireless Cellular "stealth pine tree" project at Kalihi Elementary School write to: VoiceStream PCS II Corp. 615 Pi'ikoi St., Suite 100 Honolulu, HI 96814.

Comments are due by Jan. 7. Please include copies for the city Department of Planning and Permitting and the state Office of Environmental Quality Control.

As use of cellular phones continues to grow, cellular companies are having to place more antennas across the state to provide better service and reach more areas. But residents complain that antennas are an eyesore and that they don't want them close to homes or schools for fear of radio frequency emissions.

According to industry officials, about half of all Americans now use cell phones and about 128,000 antennas are in place across the country to connect them all.

Roughly 75 percent of antennas are traditional towers and the rest are hidden in flagpoles, on rooftops and alongside steeples. Recent innovations include the use of fake pine trees, palms and even cacti to conceal an antenna in rural or natural areas.

In Hawai'i, Nextel is putting an antenna inside a flagpole in Mililani.

The "stealth pine tree" antenna will benefit the community with better phone service, McClelland said, as well as provide the school with about $1,200 a month in rent.

McClelland said proposals to place the antenna inside Kalihi Elementary's flag pole or on a roof top were rejected by the facility and parents because of worries about radio frequency emissions. The tree antenna is farther away from students.

Some lawsuits allege that exposure to cellular phone, or radio frequency, radiation leads to an increased risk of cancer, and the Federal Communications Commission says it is a factor that must be considered before a facility, operation or transmitter can be authorized or licensed.

According to the environmental assessment, the stealth tree project will include an 80-foot high monopole with six antennas sitting on a 20 feet by 20 feet reinforced concrete slab, and have two 4-foot high equipment cabinets. The antennas — each six feet long, eight inches wide, and four inches deep — will be situated at the top of the pine tree tower. They will be painted green to blend with the monopole and surrounding plants. A 6-foot high chain link fence and locked gate will enclose the facility.

The pine tree design is an attempt to lessen the visual effects on commuters on Likelike Highway and valley residents, according to the report.

Roy Irei, director of development at VoiceStream, said stealth towers are being used across the country to make antennas more acceptable by blending in with the environment.

Irei acknowledged that there are no other 80-foot tall pine trees in the area, but the color scheme will match existing landscaping, he said.

"It addresses the visual impact," Irei said. "That is what the community asked for. Something non-obtrusive."

Stealth antennas cost two to three times the amount of a regular antenna, Irei said. The antenna is expected to go up next year and will take about 30 days to build once all necessary permits are granted.

Reach James Gonser at jgonser@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2431.