Council, public speak out against Act 97


Hawaii County residents offered a unified front against actions the Legislature took last year regarding what areas of the state could be used for geothermal energy.

Testifiers spoke in support of a County Council resolution calling for the state Legislature to repeal Act 97, which got rid of geothermal subzones and opened the door for developers to locate geothermal production wells anywhere.

Council members, meeting Wednesday at the West Hawaii Civic Center, apparently took the many testifiers’ pleas to heart and unanimously approved the resolution.

“Subzones are needed for a very good reason,” said Nelson Ho, who participated in the movement that created subzones in the early 1980s. “It is needed because the development of geothermal is a heavy industry with often toxic consequences for the environment and the people unlucky enough to be in the vicinity. … Act 97 has the unintended consequence of focusing and hardening community opposition to geothermal.”

Former Mayor Harry Kim also spoke in favor of the resolution.

“I’m asking you to see what (Act) 97 took away from the county government with regard to home rule,” Kim said. “(Act) 97 must be repealed. (Act) 97 cannot be fixed.”

Even current county officials chimed in. Planning Director Bobby Jean Leithead Todd said the county administration supports the repeal of Act 97 and “will be working toward that goal.”

More than 80 people — mostly in Pahoa — signed up to testify on the measure. More than a dozen testifiers left the Pahoa council office when the council took a lunch break and did not return.

South Kona and Ka‘u Councilwoman Brenda Ford introduced the measure after a discussion with Kim about how Act 97 would infringe on the county’s authority. Several council members clarified their support for repealing the law wasn’t tied to a disapproval of geothermal energy; many of the testifiers, however, were against both Act 97 and developing any more geothermal sites on the Big Island.

“Act 97 is an attack on county government,” Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille said. “Act 97 is an attack on this council and all of the other county councils. It’s taking this whole legitimate democratic process away. I’m not saying I’m opposed to geothermal exploration or uses, but I believe in these principles, that the burden of proof is on those that want to do it and that they show that it is not harmful to the health and safety of those we are here to protect.”

Puna Councilman Zendo Kern agreed.

“Home rule is very important,” he said. “This just takes it away from us.”

Council members unanimously approved on first reading two bills to issue a $12 million bond to pay for upgrades at the Kealakehe Wastewater Treatment Plan’s aeration upgrade and sludge removal project. The council will hear Bills 12 and 13 one more time at its next regular meeting.

A bill appropriating $4 million for a gas collection and control system at the Puuanahulu Landfill got a unanimous favorable vote at its first reading.

The council postponed action until Feb. 20 on a measure regarding a contract for organic waste diversion and compost sites.

It also postponed indefinitely any action on Bill 266, which addressed agricultural tourism.