WAILUKU - Television broadcasters who want to erect as many as four 199-foot towers on a pristine area of Haleakala said they'll conduct another study to determine if their signals can be successfully transmitted from a different location preferred by the public.
"We're willing to explore other alternatives, but the bottom line is that we need a place that can work for us," said Michael Rosenberg, general manager of KITV and president of the Hawaii Television Broadcasters Association.
Rosenberg and others will sit down Wednesday afternoon to try to smooth things out with the board of directors of the Friends of Haleakala National Park and representatives of Hui Ai Pohaku, two Maui organizations that have adamantly opposed the broadcasters' plans to put up the antennas at Kalepeamoa, a wilderness area that Native Hawaiian cultural leader Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr. says is sacred.
Kalepeamoa remains the choice location for the towers, said Rosenberg, because an earlier study indicated that household reception from the other sites would not be satisfactory.
However, Chuck Bergson, owner of Island Airwaves, an antenna farm in Ulupalakua, said a study done for him showed that the signals would transmit from his place just fine.
Because of the discrepancy of the findings, Rosenberg said "an independent engineering company" will be hired to do yet another study of the various locations.
The television companies have been told they need to move their broadcast antennas away from the summit, where their radio signals interfere with electronic instrumentation at the observatories on the Haleakala summit.
The University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy and the Air Force Research Laboratory maintain a cluster of observatories on Haleakala involved in satellite tracking, searching for potentially hazardous asteroids and investigating the sun.
Plans for additional facilities at the summit have been held up pending completion of a master plan for the Science City area managed by the U.H. But a master plan can't be completed until U.H. astronomers know what will happen with the broadcast antennas, IfA officials said.
If the antenna are not moved, plans for additional observatories on Haleakala could be jeopardized.
Dean Uchida, state land division manager, said the IfA initiated an application for a new antenna farm at Kalepeamoa three years ago, but the program stalled for lack of funds.
At a meeting called by the Maui Economic Development Board, the broadcasters were told they would need to file an application and deal with the issues around the Kalepeamoa site if they wanted to relocate there, Uchida said.
The Department of Land & Natural Resources is not taking a position on the issue, but will work the broadcasters on whatever site they select, he said. He said
the broadcasters will be investing in new equipment to comply with federal requirements and "they would want a secure, long-term site."
The public has urged the broadcasters to build at Bergson's site or find a location other than Kalepeamoa where it's feared the giant towers will create a visual blight and lead to more development on the mountain. The antennas would rise up nearly 20 stories high and require support facilities.
Maxwell, spokesman for Hui Ai Pohaku, said Kalepeamoa plays such an important role in the lives of Native Hawaiians that his group is prepared to take the issue to court.
"We already drew the line in the cinders," said Maxwell. "For Hawaiians, it's not only sight pollution of the antennas, but the cultural and spiritual intrusion on Haleakala."
Mary Evanson, president of The Friends of Haleakala National Park, said the battle over antennas at Kalepeamoa could become intense.
Rosenberg insists his organization is considering all possibilities.
"We're not just looking at Kalepeamoa and nowhere else," he said. "We understand this is an issue that has some emotion attached to it and, hopefully, we can mitigate the opposition's concerns. We don't want to pick a fight."
Kalepeamoa is located about a mile from the summit at an elevation of 9,250 feet along the Southwest Rift Zone.
Interference from broadcasting will get even worse when stations are required by the Federal Communications Commission to broadcast digital signals in higher frequencies. Digital broadcasts in the new broadcast frequencies will require more power to provide the same coverage now provided by the existing antenna.
Even the move to Kalepeamoa could cut off broadcast coverage to some fringe areas of Maui, according to a broadcasters' study. Digital signals do not allow for partial reception. If a television antenna is not receiving a full digital signal, it will have no picture at all.
A draft environmental assessment prepared for U.H. found that the towers would "have no significant impact" on the wilderness area and would not require an environmental impact statement. But the assessment acknowledged that the towers will be intrusive to Native Hawaiians and to hikers "who value the quiet and serenity of an unspoiled area."
There were objections from officials of Haleakala National Park and the Forestry and Wildlife Division of DLNR on Maui.
Don Reeser, superintendent of Haleakala National Park, wrote that "the potential impacts to the park are too great" if the antennas go up at Kalepeamoa and advised the broadcasters to go elsewhere. Wes Wong, then the district manager for DLNR's Forest and Wildlife division on Maui, recommended denial of the proposal.
"It will make an area known for its scenery just another cluttered ridge top," wrote Wong, who said the environmental assessment "underestimates impacts to the Kahikinui and Kula Forest Reserves."
Wong said the towers would harm the migration and nesting of the endangered dark-rumped petrels or `ua'u, prime chukar hunting and habitat, and the enjoyment of hikers.
Opponents don't object to the antennas in general, just building them at Kalepeamoa. They have recommended that the towers be constructed at one of three locations: at Bergson's antenna farm, at a spot below the summit known as the `'saddle area" or at an open space in Polipoli State Park called "the ball park" where, decades ago, workers with the Civilian Conservation Corps played baseball.
Uchida said technicians with the observatories said the "saddle" just below the current antenna sites would not provide adequate shielding from the radio frequencies for the observatory equipment.
Rosenberg said the Polipoli location would require the towers to be "well over 200 feet" tall, meaning that the Federal Aviation Administration would require them to have red, flashing lights to warn aircraft at night, making them more visible.
The stations that need to develop new antennas are KGMB, KHON, KHNL, KITV, KHET and KFVE.
Evanson said the public will be updated on the situation at a meeting next month after more information has been assembled.
City Editor Edwin Tanji contributed to this story.