KULA - Television broadcasters who had hoped to erect up to four 199-foot antennas on a pristine spot of Haleakala said they'll yield to public pressure and attempt to build the towers on a less-intrusive site in Polipoli State Park.
In an interview on Friday, Michael Rosenberg, general manager of KITV and president of the Hawaii Television Broadcasters Association, said the group hasn't completely abandoned plans to build at Kalepeamoa, a wilderness area on Haleakala, but hopes things work out to move the project to a flat spot near the old ballpark at Polipoli.
"It's safe to say the ballpark has become our primary location," said Rosenberg. "It's not as good as Kalepeamoa (for transmission), but we don't want to just plod through and knock people aside. We want to be good neighbors."
Rosenberg said the new site was decided after a visit to Polipoli on Thursday with Maui leaders who hoped they could persuade the broadcasters to set their sights on a flat area near the old ballpark used decades ago by workers with Civilian Conservation Corps who were working at the park.
Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr., the Native Hawaiian cultural specialist who has spearheaded community opposition to the project, praised Rosenberg and his group for searching for alternative sites.
"Of course I'm happy," said Maxwell. "It's been very inspiring working with Mike Rosenberg. It just shows that if people are willing to bend, things can work out."
Mary Evanson, vice president of the Friends of Haleakala National Park and another vocal opponent of building antennas at Kalepeamoa, was off island and couldn't be reached for comment.
Rosenberg thanked Maxwell, Evanson, the Friends of Haleakala, Native Hawaiian leader Dana Naone Hall and Kula resident Bill Smith for their "advice and counsel."
The broadcasters currently have four antennas transmitting signals from near the summit of Haleakala. They've been told they must be moved because their signals interfere with electronic instruments at nearby observatories operated by the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy and the Air Force Research Laboratory.
The site closest to the summit, Kalepeamoa, was chosen by the broadcasters because at 9,000 feet it was in clear range of Oahu and the Big Island.
The community, however, protested the plans and was joined by leaders of public agencies.
Don Reeser, superintendent of Haleakala National Park, and Wes Wong, then the district manager for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources' Forest and Wildlife Division on Maui, both urged the broadcasters to look elsewhere.
It was feared the towers would harm the migration and nesting of the endangered dark-rumped petrels, or uau, as well as the numerous archaeological sites in the vicinity. Maxwell said Kalepeamoa remains sacred to Native Hawaiians.
An earlier study done by the broadcasters determined that an antenna farm on Ulupalakua Ranch wasn't suitable.
Rosenberg said that while reading through the public comments to the environmental assessment conducted at Kalepeamoa, the group saw a suggestion by Bill Smith that the old ballpark at Polipoli could be investigated as an alternative site.
The flat area would make the towers less visible, and it's believed they would not require flashing lights, as was previously thought.
While transmission from the old ballfield would not be as ideal as Kalepeamoa, Rosenberg said the broadcasters are willing to try. He said a lease will have to be worked out with DLNR, among other things, but he hopes for the best.
Maxwell and Rosenberg said the broadcasters would meet with the community and hunters to discuss the new plans.
The selected area, noted Rosenberg, is above a major pig trail.
The stations that need to develop new antennas are KGMB, KHON, KHNL, KITV, KHET and KFVE.