Hawaii County Council will meet Wednesday at 8 a.m. at the Hilo County Council Chambers and take up the matter of overriding two of Mayor Billy Kenoi’s vetoes relating to geothermal development.
And not all Hawaii County citizens want that to happen.
Petra Wiesenbauer lives within a mile of the Puna Geothermal Plant, and has for years. She runs Hale Makamae Bed & Breakfast, and says she and most of her neighbors have no problems living that close to Puna Geothermal. She feels confident that if there were any problem, the County would inform the residents and follow existing evacuation plans to take care of the residents. She says they’ve had meetings with Puna Geothermal officials and feel sure that they’re following all the safety requirements set forth by the County, State, and Federal governments. She also says plant manager Mike Kaleikini has been open and willing to discuss issues with nearby residents.
Bill 256 would make changes to the current Geothermal Relocation and Community Benefits Program, which provides for the County to purchase the property of those close to Puna Geothermal, if they so desire. The changes include funding studies to investigate the health-related claims of those opponents of geothermal, most of whom testified at a special County Council meeting which Council Chair Dominic Yagong held in Puna. The changes also extend the “geothermal buffer zone” to one mile around the plant. That would mean that the County could purchase properties inside that one-mile radius, but they could not be resold and would instead be demolished. Leilani Estates residents say for them, that would be an economic disaster.
Bill 257 calls for a new emergency response and evacuation plan.
Mayor Kenoi vetoed both bills. He said there have been few complaints about Puna Geothermal until fairly recently. The complaints and several new requests for the County to purchase homes near the plant picked up when County Council Chair Dominic Yagong, who introduced both bills, began raising the issues of geothermal safety. Credible sources even say some people went in and purchased homes at low prices with intent to resell to the County at a higher price.
When the first geothermal plant went into Puna, in 1981, there were some serious problems, some toxic releases, and people say they got sick. However, since then, Ormatt, a long-time provider of geothermal power, has taken over the plant. Since the first set of problems more than 30 years ago, few residents have complained of problems.
Yagong claims there is no evacuation plan in the event of a problem at Puna Geothermal. But Mayor Kenoi saiys the county has evacuation plans for virtually every kind of disaster. And even former Mayor Harry Kim weighed in on that one—at the July 5 Mayor forum in Hilo, he took offense when Yagong said there were no such plans. He offered to take Yagong to Civil Defense, which Kim used to head up, and show him the Puna plan and explain it to him.
Wiesenbauer says she and more than 300 other residents who live close to Puna Geothermal are concerned that by extending the buffer zone, that will diminish property values in the area and make it a ghost area. In her case, as owner of a Bed and Breakfast, she hopes one day to sell the business. She said Tuesday the County Council has been listening only to a vocal minority and isn’t making its decisions based on sound science, but on emotion. She says if the County Council is concerned, they should fund health studies and then make some decisions based on fact, not on emotion as she says they’re doing now. She says the one-mile diameter number is arbitrary, based on nothing but emotion.
Wiesenbauer plans to attend the meeting and present a petition in support of the Mayor’s vetoes.
But also at the meeting, members of the Pele Defense Fund, a group adamantly opposed to geothermal power, will be out in force, along with others specifically or philosophically opposed to geothermal development. Some of the opponents testified at the Special County Council Meeting in Puna and claim to have continuous and lingering health problems created by the problems at the first geothermal facility back in 1981, 31 years ago.
The Council’s meeting will begin with public testimony at 8 a.m. The Council will hear all those who sign up to testify prior to taking a vote. Six votes will be required to override the Mayor’s veto.
See more online, http://www.bigislandvideonews.com/2012/07/31/video-leilani-estates-group-opposes-geothermal-veto-overrides/