By VALERIE MONSON
WAILUKU - Already told they'll face a battle if they try to relocate a pair of 20-story antenna towers to an unspoiled spot of Haleakala, television broadcasters now must deal with the wrath of hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts who object to having the towers moved to an area near Polipoli State Park.
"It's the last readily accessible wilderness area on Maui, and we don't need a bunch of television equipment up there," said Brian Jenkins, an attorney who has hiked and hunted in Polipoli since he was 12.
For more than three years, television broadcasters from Honolulu have been searching for a suitable site for their antennae. The powerful signals from the antennae now at the 10,000-foot-high summit of Haleakala interfere with the sensitive electronic instruments of nearby observatories at Science City. That interference will get even worse when the stations upgrade from analog to digital transmitters to comply with requirements of the Federal Communications Commission.
Mike Rosenberg, general manager of KITV and president of the Hawaii Television Broadcasters Association, said no formal proposal has been made regarding a lease at Polipoli, but "we're still exploring it."
Rosenberg said he's well aware of the growing opposition of hunters to the preliminary plans.
"They've let us know in no uncertain terms that they weren't happy with that location," he said. "We want to be good neighbors, and we're going to try to mitigate any impacts, but there's no location on Earth that makes everybody happy."
Broadcasters originally wanted to erect the 199-foot towers at Kalepeamoa, a pristine ridge at 9,250 feet and a mile away from Science City. When the public protested, the broadcasters turned their attention to ballpark junction at Puu Keokea, at about 7,200 feet. The site was suggested by some of those opposed to building at Kalepeamoa.
Others, however, turned thumbs down.
Bob Hobdy, Maui district manager for the state Forestry and Wildlife Division, said his office would object, just as it opposed the move to Kalepeamoa.
"We're going to come out against it for a number of reasons," said Hobdy, who agreed with Jenkins that Polipoli remains the most accessible wilderness area on the island for hunters. "There's a long history of hunting up there, a lot of hiking and associated activities and horseback riding. There's just a lot of demand out there. Polipoli gets used a lot."
Hobdy said hunters and hikers can wander through 6,000 acres of state park and adjoining private ranch lands where there is an agreement on public access. While broadcasters say they only need two acres for their project and promise to put all infrastructure underground, Hobdy said the impacts wouldn't be restricted to that small footprint.
"If the towers went up, it would probably require a certain amount of buffer zone around it for safety," he said. "There's also the visual impacts. It definitely would change the character of the whole place."
Dr. Wilbert Yee, president of the Kaupo Wildlife Club, said his organization also would oppose the towers going in at Polipoli. The Kula Community Association supported the move from Kalepeamoa but listed several concerns about negative repercussions of building at Polipoli and recommended that the broadcasters continue to seek public input.
The site preferred by nearly everyone on Maui - a private antenna farm at Keonehunehune on Ulupalakua Ranch - continues to be out of the question, said Rosenberg. At 4,383 feet, the area simply isn't high enough to allow the signals to transmit over the Central and East Maui area, or to carry a signal to repeaters on the Big Island.
"Ulupalakua still doesn't work - it never did," he said.
That's especially unfortunate because infrastructure and roads already exist at the Ulupalakua site. Broadcasters would have to spend possibly as much as $5 million to put in infrastructure at Polipoli.
Despite rumors that the towers will help only windward Oahu and the Big Island with no benefit for Maui, Rosenberg said that simply isn't true.
"Anyone who says we don't need to broadcast from Maui is misinformed," he said. "It's an emotional issue."
Rosenberg acknowledged that all but between 15 percent and 20 percent of Maui viewers receive cable television. He couldn't say how many would lose their television reception without the towers.
Mary Evanson, founder of The Friends of Haleakala National Park, had hoped the Polipoli site would be the middle ground for the controversial project.
"It would be ideal if they could go to Ulupalakua, but if there's no appropriate place there, we felt Polipoli would be acceptable because it's such a small area," she said.
Evanson and Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr. remained somewhat baffled as to why such comprehensive signal transmissions are needed, even in case of emergencies such as hurricane or tsunami warnings. Evanson pointed out that, at times like that, people listen to battery-powered radios and not TV. During storms, television broadcasts from the summit frequently get knocked out of service by power failures anyway.
"We can send a man to the moon and they can't find a way to get their signals relayed through a repeater station or something that wouldn't have such negative impacts on the environment," he said.
Rosenberg said the FCC's original deadline to digitize the signals by May will almost certainly be extended. However, the delay in moving the towers continues to hold up completion of a master plan for Science City, which is managed by the University of Hawaii.
The stations that need to develop new antennas are KGMB, KHON, KHNL, KITV, KHET and KFVE.
"We don't want a fight," said Rosenberg. "If somebody tells us a place that would work, we'll explore it. Hopefully, we can get this whole thing done and be good neighbors at the same time."