Can You Hear Me Now?

Verizon Wireless granted recommendation to operate in west Molokai

West Side residents may receive a much needed boost in wireless coverage sometime in the coming year. During a meeting July 25 Molokai Planning Commission (MPC) recommended approval of a Special Use Permit requested by the nation’s largest wireless company in order to set up new antennas in Maunaloa.

Verizon Wireless representative Eric Kaneshiro said the company plans to replace a 50-foot light pole with a 50-foot steel pole. It will attach 12 antennas to the pole and build a 1,650 square ft. equipment shelter nearby. The antennas may be tested using an antenna test chamber prior to their installation. An emergency generator will be placed in the shelter. It will also relocate the existing light at the 50-feet level down to 31-feet.

Kaneshiro said Verizon wants to keep its status as the nation’s number one wireless provider. “This site is not a money-maker,” he said. “It’s more of a public service.”

MPC members also felt the community needed better wireless coverage and were inclined to recommend the permit to the State Land Use Commission. But there are a few issues still pending.

Young shearwaters tend to fly into light poles during their maiden flight, mistaking the lights by stars. Kaneshiro said the impact is minimal, because the lights are turned on only during sparse events, such as rodeos. The land leased is on Molokai Ranch property.

Bill Feeter suggested Verizon should help local schools. Kaneshiro said that while it’s not up to him to approve it, he will bring the issue to his superiors. Kaneshiro added the company already does a lot of community service.

Kaneshiro said Verizon considered setting up antennas in Kaunakakai, but run into bureaucratic problems. If the problems were resolved, Kaneshiro said the company will consider setting up better coverage in Kaunakakai.

Answering MPC members’ concerns, Kaneshiro said Verizon is willing to consider allowing competitors to set up their antennas on the new pole.

MPC said it will approve Verizon’s request upon compliance with special conditions – included installing a fire-suppression system, work with the police department in order not to disturb its frequency, considering competition to attach antennas to the pole and using shielded lights to prevent shearwater collision.

However, most MPC members were upset Verizon had already been granted a Special Use Permit, but did not act upon it, letting it expire without applying for an extension.

MPC suggested granting a five-year permit, but Kaneshiro was hoping for a 10-year permit. Despite MPC reassuring it would renew the permit in 2012, given that Verizon will follow the special conditions, Kaneshiro had doubts. He said in five years from now MPC members might change and may not be inclined to renew the permit. He assured Verizon would comply with the conditions.

Unbent, MPC chairman DeGray Vanderbilt gave Kaneshiro an alternative. “We go for a one-year permit and we will know right away if you are in compliance, and we can extend it for 10 years.” Kaneshiro smiled and made no more comments.

MPC then voted to recommend a five-year Special Use Permit allowing Verizon Wireless to operate on the West Side. If the company sends a compliance report 45 days before the permit expires in 2012, it will be granted an automatic extension.


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