Hawaii County could tap into its geothermal royalties to provide internet access at the Pahoa Community Center.
The County Council voted 6-3 Wednesday to allocate $30,000 from its geothermal relocation and community benefits account to provide wireless internet and computer access at the facility. The bill requires one more council vote to be adopted.
As seen by the vote, not all were in favor of the measure, and several testifiers also objected, stating the money should be used to improve monitoring of Puna Geothermal Venture.
“It’s basically throwing the community under the bus,” said Bob Petricci of Puna Pono Alliance. “Now you want to take the money instead of doing what should be done.”
He said the money should come from the general fund instead, and questioned the price tag.
“Who pays $30,000 for internet?” Petricci asked.
Puna Councilwoman Eileen O’Hara said she understands the position of the testifiers but suggested the county could lose the money if it doesn’t use it. She voted aye with reservations along with Councilwoman Jen Ruggles, who represents Puna mauka.
“When (the state) sees a fund that’s not being utilized, it seems like an attractive pot of cash to go after,” she said.
“This benefits the community far and wide,” O’Hara added.
Ka‘u Councilwoman Maile David introduced the bill by request.
The county receives 30 percent of the geothermal royalties. The state Department of Land and Natural Resources receives half, while the Office of Hawaiian Affairs gets 20 percent.
O’Hara said the county does not have any new requests from residents to relocate away from the power plant. Relocations have been the fund’s main expense the past few years.
The county estimates it will receive $600,000 in geothermal royalties in the next fiscal year beginning July 1.
Voting no were Hilo Councilman Aaron Chung, Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy and Kohala Councilman Tim Richards. Chung said he voted no because he thought the Puna representatives were divided on the issue.
The council also passed on first reading a bill allowing for commercial sponsorships of county facilities.
The bill, which also requires another vote, was amended to state the sponsorship agreements must be signed by the mayor, in addition to receiving council approval. The bill doesn’t allow for naming rights to be sold.
Email Tom Callis at email@example.com.