Kanuha says geothermal impact study not forgotten

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A Windward Planning Commission meeting got heated Thursday when testifiers scolded Hawaii County officials because a proposed study on the impacts of geothermal development on Native Hawaiians is stuck in bureaucratic limbo.

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A Windward Planning Commission meeting got heated Thursday when testifiers scolded Hawaii County officials because a proposed study on the impacts of geothermal development on Native Hawaiians is stuck in bureaucratic limbo.

The study, advocated by members of the Puna Pono Alliance and Pele Defense Fund, received the support of the commission 14 months ago, but the board rescinded that decision two months later because of concerns that it didn’t meet standards of the county’s procurement code.

The Planning Department, which oversees the geothermal asset fund that would be tapped to pay for the $293,760 study, was directed to reconcile the matter, but officials told the commission at the meeting that little, if any, progress had been made. Nonetheless, Planning Director Duane Kanuha, who offered to hold a special meeting on the topic soon, said the study had not been forgotten.

“We’ve been in constant consultation to get where you guys got to get,” he said. “It’s got to the point where we couldn’t figure out a way around it.”

A claims adjuster had recommended the commission reject the proposal for not meeting criteria for a claim from the asset fund, an issue with which the department says it is still grappling.

Speakers, who say the study is needed due to Hawaiians’ reverence for Pele, the volcano goddess, complained that the process is taking way too long, and they have received no direction for how to proceed.

“Here we are 14 months later and nothing has happened,” said Ronald Fujiyoshi, a pastor who speaks out on geothermal and Hawaiian issues. “It sure smells of something unpleasant.”

The issue was emotional for testifier Luana Jones, who said that geothermal drilling and operations were an insult to Hawaiians and the environment. “In our culture, that’s not acceptable,” she said after wiping her eyes.

Palikapu Dedman, a Hawaiian activist, and Jim Albertini didn’t pull any punches. Both accused the Planning Commission and department of discrimination against Hawaiians.

“You guys are real racist by sitting there,” said Dedman, who prefers a more direct approach when speaking to officials.

“No one invited you folks (to Hawaii),” he added, in an apparent reference to some of the commission members’ ethnicity.

Albertini asked if “Hawaiian lives matter” and said the department was acting like Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. He also berated Kanuha for speaking to some of his staff members during his testimony.

“I want to talk to you, please,” he said. “The public is testifying.”

A few commission members also said they were frustrated by the lack of progress.

“No one disagrees with the substance (of the issue),” said Charles Heaukulani, who chairs the commission.

The commission took no action, but members supported discussing the matter more at another regular or special meeting.

Bob Petricci, a geothermal activist, said the delays in getting the study, in addition to a separate study on establishing whether there are health impacts from Puna Geothermal Venture, are causing some to lose confidence in the county’s ability to address concerns over geothermal development.

“Should we really believe in that at this point?” he asked, noting these issues have been brought up for the past 30 years.

It’s also been a year since the county issued a request for proposals for a geothermal health study, recommended by a geothermal working group formed by Mayor Billy Kenoi.

Executive Assistant Clarysse Nunokawa said in an email last month that a review committee continues to look over the three bids that were submitted, and that a decision may occur soon.

“Coordinating the evaluation review has taken longer than expected because we want to ensure that the evaluation team is provided all the information available and necessary for them to make a well-informed decision,” she said.

Kanuha said at the meeting that the health study is facing similar issues as the Native Hawaiian study.

Still, some progress has been made meeting the requests from the geothermal study group, which met in 2012.

That includes completion of a study of the old HGP-A geothermal test site and groundwater in the lower Puna area.

The HGP-A report found a few “recognized environmental conditions” in the form of rusted 55-gallon drums and broken and rusted electrical components. Soil tests didn’t find contaminants exceeding screening levels.

The groundwater study didn’t find any clear impacts from geothermal operations.

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Puna Pono Alliance member Tom Travis criticized it for not looking at enough groundwater wells “downstream” from PGV.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com

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