Broken outfall not a setback for Hu Honua project

Hu Honua Bioenergy won’t need to conduct an environmental review for a damaged storm water outfall along the coast near Pepeekeo since it no longer plans to use it for its biomass power plant.

A state court in January ordered the Windward Planning Commission to address public shoreline impacts of repairing or replacing the outfall, which collapsed as a contested case hearing was being conducted for the $250 million project, located at the site of a former Hilo Coast Processing Co. power plant.

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On Thursday, the commission voted that no such review is needed since Hu Honua will not be repairing or replacing the outfall. Instead, it plans to discharge water cycled through the plant via injection wells. Additional storm water runoff created by the project’s footprint will be discharged into dry wells.

Warren Lee, Hu Honua president, said after the meeting that the state Department of Health is reviewing a permit application for use of the wells. Meanwhile, construction of the 30-megawatt power plant, which will use chipped eucalyptus trees as fuel, is continuing.

Several Pepeekeo-area residents concerned about the project’s impacts to the community told the commission an environmental review should be required since the outfall will still collect runoff that potentially could be polluted from the site. Lee said the project won’t add to the runoff because of the dry wells.

Some also said that injecting the water into the ground will contaminate the ocean. Hu Honua’s property is adjacent to the shoreline.

“This is our soil, this is our water, this is our land,” said Steve Johnson, who lives near the site. He said contaminated groundwater, which he attributed to the former sugar plantation, is polluting the shoreline.

“You just can’t pump this much water into the ground and not impact our community,” he said.

Lee, who is a former county Public Works director and former president of Hawaii Electric Light Co., said after the meeting the water that would be injected is used to cool steam that is put through a condenser and recycled in the plant. He said nothing is added to it.

About 50 people attended the meeting, with about half in opposition to the project. Hu Honua supporters, including workers and union representatives, also were present.

On another Hu Honua issue, the commission left things a bit ambiguous.

Hu Honua asked for clarification that its permit limiting noise at the property boundary to 55 decibels only applied to operations and not construction. The property is zoned industrial, which has a regulatory limit of 70 decibels.

Neighbors said the noise from the plant, which is pushing to meet an end-of-the-year deadline for a crucial federal tax credit, often exceeds 55 decibels.

The commission voted to clarify that the lower threshold doesn’t apply to construction but didn’t decide whether that lower limit covers emergencies or actions not considered part of normal operations. Lee said an emergency shutdown could easily exceed the limit.

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Meanwhile, Hilo resident Claudia Rohr is suing the county Planning Department and Planning Commission to require an environmental impact statement for the project.

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

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