Councilwoman drinks ‘geothermal water’

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Ka‘u Councilwoman Maile David has her concerns about tapping geothermal sources for energy, but that didn’t stop her from drinking water allegedly sourced from a geothermal well or spring Wednesday during a County Council meeting in Kailua-Kona.

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Ka‘u Councilwoman Maile David has her concerns about tapping geothermal sources for energy, but that didn’t stop her from drinking water allegedly sourced from a geothermal well or spring Wednesday during a County Council meeting in Kailua-Kona.

During several hours of testimony from geothermal opponents, a man, citing Hawaiian cultural traditions of gift giving, brought a bottle of water with him claiming it came from such a source in Puna and offered it to the nine council members.

While he might have brought it only to help make a point, David, also a Native Hawaiian, said she couldn’t decline the offering and gulped a cup of the water before the audience.

“I’m doing this for me and my family because I respect my culture and I cannot refuse a gift,” she said. “I was taught that.”

The other council members politely declined or didn’t respond.

David didn’t indicate whether the water had a particular aroma or taste, and she didn’t return a voicemail left on her cellphone. But she didn’t seem to be suffering from any ill effects for the rest of the lengthy discussion on the controversial topic.

The discussion ended with approval of a resolution seeking to add language regarding geothermal development in the county’s general plan.

The amended recommendation includes returning regulatory authority to the county Planning Commission (subject to state law), avoiding inhabited areas as sites for future development and following through with enhanced monitoring and health studies.

The original proposal drew the ire of residents of Puna, home to the state’s only geothermal plant, and Kona, where geothermal exploration studies are planned, for language that claimed geothermal development has been done safely in Hawaii. That was changed to say it can be done safely with proper impact mitigation.

Puna Councilman Greggor Ilagan, who introduced it, was the target of much of the criticism, with residents accusing him of supporting a corporate agenda.

“The only thing I can come up with is corruption,” said Joyce Folena, a frequent testifier and geothermal opponent.

Kona residents, who say they became opposed to the prospect of geothermal development on Hualalai after hearing from anti-geothermal activists from Puna, shared their outrage.

“We’re already defending Mauna Kea, and now we have to defend Hualalai, too,” said a woman speaking in Kona.

Currently, there are no plans to build geothermal power plants in Kona, though noninvasive studies for geothermal sources on Hualalai were approved by the state.

Ilagan faced similar criticism Tuesday when he introduced a bill that would use the geothermal relocation fund to cover staff expenses for administering the account. Testifiers pulled no punches when accusing him of trying to use the money as a slush fund rather than relocations. Some called him a thief and asked how he could sleep at night.

The councilman, who appeared hurt by some of the comments, said he was only trying to make the account more efficient before tabling the measure.

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“I understand your frustration,” he said. “This is not an easy issue.”

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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