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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 12:41 p.m., Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Maui parents fear emissions if cell tower erected

The Maui News

PUKALANI — Parents of students at the Carden Academy of Maui and neighbors of the campus are opposing a plan to erect a 35-foot tower at the school to improve Nextel cell phone reception.

"No one on our street wants it," said Steve Sadler, who lives on Makaena Place, downhill from the school that leases a little more than 2 acres from Grace Church.

The tower would be an "eyesore," said neighbor Louis Cambra, who also worried about the potential adverse health effects of microwave emissions. "There's no proven facts that that thing won't affect you."

Honolulu-based Nextel consultant Carl Young maintained emissions from cell phone, television and radio antennas have been safe for years, and the tower at the Grace Church property would be disguised as a Mexican palm tree.

That won't help it blend in, resident Jamie Padgett told The Maui News.

"It just stands out. There's no trees around it at all," he said.

An informational meeting on the proposed tower drew 15 to 20 parents and a few teachers last Wednesday night at Carden Academy, said Monica Riker, who has daughters enrolled in the 5th and 8th grades.

"All the parents that were there opposed it," she said.

Riker said the parents don't want their children exposed to tower emissions that could harm their health in the future.

Carden Academy Executive Director John Harrisson said the tower would be located between Grace Church's main building and Kula Highway, not in a play area used by children.

School officials facilitated the meeting between parents and a Nextel representative to give them a chance to learn about plans for the tower.

Young acknowledged the cell phone antenna would emit nonionizing microwaves, but its power would be only 100 watts. For comparison, a television emits more than 100 watts of nonionizing microwaves, he said. (Nonionizing microwaves do not heat water molecules, unlike a microwave oven, which uses ionizing microwaves to heat food.)

Numerous studies have been done on exposure to microwaves, and there's no evidence of adverse health effects, Young said.

In urban areas, people are bathed in much higher microwave emissions from radio and television towers without any reports of health problems, he said.

"They've been around for decades right next to people," Young said.

Riker wasn't convinced.

"Maybe they made a mistake," she said of people who've lived near TV and radio towers for years. "But I don't want that mistake now. I don't want it at the school. I don't want my kids by that."

Church leaders did not seek the Nextel tower on their property, but Nextel officials informed them that federal law permitted the company to "basically put the tower anywhere they want," Grace Church Pastor Robb Finberg said.

Nextel made it clear, he said, that if the tower were not located on church property then it would be somewhere nearby. Finberg said church leaders concluded it would be preferable to have the tower on church land because "perhaps we'd have more control of what the tower ultimately was going to look like."

Finberg said he shared parents' concerns about the safety of children at the school, which has 130 students in kindergarten through 8th grade.

"We don't want to expose them to anything," he said.

Nextel provided "an impressive amount of literature" attesting to the safety of cell phone towers, Finberg said, adding that he did additional research, consulting with physicians, an electrical engineer and Web sites.

"We've come to the conclusion that it is not more harmful than other things that already are in the area," he said.

Finberg pointed out that a Sprint antenna already is on Maui Electric Co. property nearby on Kula Highway.

The pastor said church board members have given Nextel approval to proceed with the design phase of the project, but final approval has not been given and members of the church congregation, which numbers about 200 people, have not voted on the issue.

Neighbors Sadler and Cambra said they don't see why Nextel doesn't add its antenna to the Sprint tower already at the MECO site, particularly since Nextel and Sprint have merged their telecommunications operations.

"Why make two eyesores?" Cambra asked.

Young said Sprint already has a user agreement with MECO, and adding another antenna at the site would trigger a lengthy approval process, including a review by the Public Utilities Commission, which could take two to three years.

The proposal to install a cell phone tower at the Grace Church site would take at least a year, he said. The project requires a building permit, a conditional use permit and approvals from the Federal Aviation Administration and Federal Communications Commission, among others.

Young said Nextel has held public informational meetings to inform residents of plans for the tower, even though such meetings are not a statutory requirement.

Nextel wants to be a "good corporate citizen," he said, and be "sensitive to the community."

For more Maui news, visit The Maui News.