Panel delays action on measure tied to water bottling plant proposal

The Hawaii County Council postponed action on a bill tied to a controversial water bottling plant proposal.

Piilani Partners, the company behind the proposal, was denied a Special Management Area permit by the Windward Planning Commission, ensuring the project dies absent an appeal.

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However, the commission forwarded a separate matter related to the project to the council affecting zoning for the proposed site on Piilani Street in Hilo.

While council members voted in favor during a council Planning Committee meeting, they opted to delay action Thursday until it’s known the developers have exhausted their options. They favored the measure because it would give the property owners options for development if the project fails.

“If they file an appeal, at least we will know,” said Hilo Councilman Aaron Chung. “If they don’t, it’s a moot point.”

Critics told the County Council the project can’t be separated from the zoning bill, which aims to maintain the property’s light industrial zoning that was tied to an abandoned project.

“It’s still up in the air,” said Hilo resident Claudia Rohr, regarding the bottling plant. “It’s not a done deal.”

County planner Jeff Darrow said Piilani Partners can’t file an appeal until the Windward Planning Commission’s decision is made final, through publishing of findings of fact. He said the company has not indicated it intends to challenge the decision.

Opponents of the project filed an ethics complaint against Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz because of indirect connections to property owner Matsuno Enterprises.

Kierkiewicz represented Suisan last year when she worked for communications firm Hastings &Pleadwell. Steve Ueda, Suisan president, also heads Matsuno Enterprises.

The councilwoman, who has said she is against the bottling plant but voted in favor of the zoning bill in committee, said she has since resigned from Hastings &Pleadwell after previously being on leave following her election. She also disclosed the past work relationship during the Thursday meeting.

“I don’t see a conflict for me to participate in this matter,” Kierkiewicz said.

“I’m opposed to the water bottling facility, and I fully recognize what’s before us is a land use issue.”

Chung said he found no reason for Kierkiewicz to recuse herself, as she would not personally benefit from the project.

“All of us have to hold ourselves to the highest levels of ethical behavior,” he said.

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“This one goes a little bit too far in its claims launched at Ms. Kierkiewicz, in my opinion.”

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

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