Sprint acknowledged yesterday that it had installed and was using telecommunication equipment on the Westside without the required county approval.
As “punishment” for the unpermitted land use activity, the county Planning Commission voted at the Historic County Building to force the cellular phone company to remove the illegally mounted equipment within a week.
The seven-member appointed body unanimously approved the necessary permits for Sprint to co-locate telecommunication equipment at the existing Nextel facility in Kaumakani. But it added a condition that says prior to building permit approval, the applicant shall remove all unpermitted equipment by June 17 and said removal shall be verified by the county Planning Department.
It was at least the second time in the past year for a cellular phone company to put up equipment for testing purposes and leave it up without the necessary permits. Delays in processing the permit applications have been cited as a motivating factor in the decisions to go forward with the installations without the required approvals.
A similar situation happened with T-Mobile this February in Kilauea.
The company had installed telecommunication equipment for tests, but left it up while the commission was hearing the matter.
The commission deferred the T-Mobile application in February until the department verified the unpermitted antennas were removed.
T-Mobile and Sprint each waited for months before the department and commission took action on the permit applications.
Sprint’s application was enclosed in a letter to the department dated Feb. 25.
Some community members, such as Kekaha resident Bruce Pleas, said they were disappointed the commission approved another after-the-fact permit.
Pleas said he recommended the application be denied, forcing the company to go through the process of re-applying, which could take some 60 days and be a more appropriate punishment for running the equipment illegally.
Sprint can take down the unpermitted equipment, have the department confirm its removal and then put it back up again in a short amount of time, he said.
Commissioner Stuart Hollinger said the “punishment” for these companies is the cost and time it takes to remove the unpermitted equipment and reinstall it after the applications are approved.
Mark Bullard, the WIFI-Hawaii project manager who put the Sprint application together, said he was unauthorized to comment.
The three panel antennas, which were mounted at an elevation of 60 feet on the existing steel monopole used by Nextel, primarily provide coverage to cellular phone users traveling along Kaumualii Highway between Kalaheo and Waimea, according to county documents.
Pleas said the county has a history of approving after-the-fact permits. Applicants come in, build what they want, then seek the necessary approval later, he said.
This problem was supposed to stop after it was identified as a major issue three years ago, he said.
County planner Ka‘aina Hull said in his report for the Sprint application that a department staff site visit revealed the company’s proposed telecommunication equipment had already been mounted at the site.
“While said equipment’s operation constitutes an unpermitted land use activity, this use can be considered for an after-the-fact permit approval,” he states.
If the permit request is not approved, he says the department would take action to rectify the situation.
There are three other telecommunications facilities adjacent to the “Sprint together with Nextel” site. They are for AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile.
Together, there are six telecommunications poles and two electrical poles on the quarter-acre agriculturally zoned property owned by Robinson Family Partners, according to county documents.
There have been numerous permit applications for telecommunications equipment over the last year, including a few in the past two weeks.
Also on the agenda yesterday, the commission approved a Coral Wireless request to co-locate telecommunication equipment at the existing Crown Castle facility in Koloa.
On May 27, the commission approved permits to allow Coral Wireless and Sprint together with Nextel to co-locate their equipment at an existing Crown Castle telecommunications facility in Princeville.
Co-location is the preferred process to minimize impact to surrounding areas.
Residents have testified at the commission’s twice-monthly meetings that there are too many towers going up too fast. They have proposed alternative technologies, such as smaller devices that clip to existing poles, that provide similar coverage as the towers with their tall antennas.
Those who have testified acknowledge the need for expanded coverage and its importance in emergency situations, but want to preserve unobstructed view planes.
The commission has approved the department’s recommendations requiring the companies to “soften” the visual impact of the telecommunication facilities with landscaping and paint jobs that blend with the area’s vegetation.
• Nathan Eagle, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or email@example.com