Homeowner voices frustration over cell phone tower


By HUNTER BISHOP

Tribune-Herald staff writer

Anthony Ortiz may be tilting at a cell phone tower.

The South Wilder Road resident is trying to stop a Verizon Wireless cell phone tower that was approved two years ago from being built on the property next to his.

Ortiz of Hilo claims the tower’s radio transmissions are unsafe, and that he was never notified that a cell phone tower was going to be built next to his home. “It’s right in my backyard,” Ortiz said. “We don’t want it in our neighborhood.”

But the battle’s not going well.

Ortiz realizes that he’s probably too late to stop the construction, which has already begun, but he’s gathering signatures from neighbors on a petition opposing the tower anyway, and he’s meeting with the county’s planning director this week to plead his case.

Ortiz also knows that the property next door to his is legally zoned for a cell phone tower. However, Ortiz hangs his hat on a section of the Hawaii County code that allows such projects only “if not hazardous or dangerous to the surrounding area.” So he’s been selecting information about potential harm from cell phone towers from the many conflicting reports available on the Internet. Ortiz is so worried about the potential long-term effects on his 5-year-old grandson, who lives with him, that he will sell the house and move if he can’t stop the project.

“Ten or 20 years down the road, I don’t want to regret not doing anything to protect him,” Ortiz said. “That’s what our concerns are about.”

Ortiz, who erected a sign in his front yard saying, “Stop Verizon Cell Tower,” has a dozen signatures of neighbors opposing the tower and more want to sign, he said.

Aides to Councilman J Yoshimoto and Mayor Billy Kenoi were not encouraging when Ortiz contacted them about the tower, however. “Not much help,” he said. Amy Miwa, Yoshimoto’s aide, said she discussed the cell phone tower with Ortiz and helped arrange the meeting with Planning Director Bobby Jean Leithead Todd. Kevin Dayton, executive assistant to Mayor Kenoi, also helped set up the meeting with Leithead Todd after talking with Ortiz, he said.

Leithead Todd confirmed the upcoming meeting but said “there’s not a damned thing” she could do to help. “It’s a permitted use and has plan approval from 2011,” she said Wednesday. Notice to neighbors is not required for such projects.

“His main concern is that radio waves in the air are dangerous, ” Leithead Todd said, but “federal law specifically prohibits that from being a factor in denial. Even if there was a hearing, we couldn’t deny the applicant based on Mr. Ortiz’s health concerns.”

And the Federal Communications Commission says it’s not a danger, she said.

Ortiz, a contractor and construction equipment rental agent, bought the single-story, two-bedroom house in 2007, and later rebuilt and enlarged it for his wife, their son and grandson. He also recently invested in 22 solar panels for the home, but still vows to sell if the tower, already under construction, is completed.

“I cannot live next to this tower,” he said. “For me, I’m not going to take the chance.” Ortiz doesn’t hold much hope of prevailing, either. “I have a feeling we’re losing the battle,” he said. “I have a Realtor coming in on Friday.”

A spokesman for Verizon Wireless could not be reached for comment.

Email Hunter Bishop at hbishop@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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