This is written to you because of my very strong feelings on a law that was passed in 2012 that should not be, because of its impact on our island environment and people’s desired lifestyle.
This is not about taking positions for or against geothermal development and the need to seek sensible alternate energy sources. This is about Act 97, that was passed without people’s awareness of what was proposed, and took away decades of land use planning intended to assure use of land is compatible with people’s desired lifestyles. This act removed the county government authority to regulate development and removed community opportunity for input to evaluate possible social, environmental and scientific issues.
I do not have enough space here to fully cover the implications of Act 97, but I will cover them in brief.
What does Act 97 do?
c Allows geothermal exploration and development in all state land use categories: conservation, urban, rural and agricultural (including ceded lands).
c Eliminates the county government’s approval and review process over geothermal development. With this goes the permit process and people’s opportunity for meaningful input.
c Allows geothermal power plants to be built anywhere in agricultural and rural districts without a county land use permit or public hearing because it is a right by law.
c Entirely eliminates geothermal subzones, which were created in 1983. Subzones were established where geothermal could be developed based on specific guidelines set by law.
c Consideration had to be given that the development would not have unreasonable adverse health, environmental or socio-economic effects on residents or surrounding property.
c Subzones were to situate geothermal development in areas of the lowest potential environmental impact.
Act 97 initially included provisions to remove all Chapter 343 (EIS and EA) requirements for geothermal, but supporters were persuaded to instead channel that exemption request to the proper authority, the Environmental Council of the Department of Health. Fortunately, that exemption attempt failed at the last minute in May 2012. My concern is that this will be attempted again.
This is not just a Puna issue, as Senate Resolution 25 directed the controversial Public Land Development Corporation to identify areas on the island of Maui and the island of Hawaii for potential geothermal sites.
At this time, some of our state and county legislators have introduced measures to repeal Act 97. They need your support, please. You can do this by contacting all state legislators and County Council members and voicing your support for the repeal of this act.
There are attempts at this time by some members of the state Legislature to “fix” this act. The focus on amending it has been directed toward the “home rule” issue but no attention on the most important element: the subzone issue. This act cannot be fixed. It must be repealed.
It is my opinion that Act 97 violates every sense of integrity, of fairness and a trust to just do what is right. A line must be drawn to say “stop,” and we must refocus on our responsibilities for social, environmental and spiritual care.
Harry Kim, a Hilo resident, isa former mayor of Hawaii County.