Proposal for water-bottling plant killed

  • Commissioner John Replogle opposes Piilani Partners' application for an SMA permit on Feb. 7 during a County of Hawaii Windward Planning Commission meeting at the Aupuni Center in Hilo. (HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald file photo)

A proposal for a new water-bottling plant near Wailoa State Recreation Area was resurrected briefly before being definitively killed again at Thursday’s meeting of the Windward Planning Commission.

The proposal, an application for a Special Management Area use permit that would allow Piilani Partners LLC to drill a 1,000-foot well into the Maunakea aquifer near the intersection of Piilani and Mililani streets in Hilo, had been dragged between Planning Commission meetings for months with no decision until February, when the Commission voted to defer the application pending determinations from the state Commission on Water Resource Management.

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Because such a deferral could last potentially indefinitely, representatives of Piilani Partners requested a reconsideration of the Planning Commission’s February decision.

Attorney Pam Bunn, representing Piilani Partners, said deferring the application indefinitely was a de facto denial of the application, even though the application was not in violation of the state’s Public Trust Doctrine.

Because the proposed well would not be within a water management area, Bunn said, the only facet of the Public Trust Doctrine to be considered is the potential public benefit of the project.

The well, she went on, would not cause any harm to the untapped aquifer, and would only drain water at a fraction of the maximum sustainable rate.

Public testimony, as it had been for the previous three meetings, was universally negative. More than 25 testifiers lambasted the project, attacking its merits on grounds ranging from Hawaiian sovereignty, opposition to plastic waste and concerns over commodifying public trust resources, to concerns that the increased noise levels at the bottling plant would increase aggression in nearby residents to potentially dangerous levels.

In the end, the Planning Commission voted to reconsider the proposal, only for commissioner John Replogle, who had vocally opposed the bottling plant since its introduction, to file a motion to deny Piilani Partners’ application.

Building the well, Replogle said, would introduce risks to the water supply that would not be in the public’s interest to accept, to say nothing of the several months of public condemnation of the project.

The commissioners voted to deny the application 5-1, with only commission chair Joseph Clarkson opposing.

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While Michael Yee, director of the county Planning Department, suggested after February’s meeting that Piilani Partners would likely seek to appeal the application after its official denial, Piilani Partners’ representatives did not confirm that intention at Thursday’s meeting.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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