I hadn’t seen my friend Venus in a while, but there she was, sparkling in a patch of blue sky when the dogs and I went out walking this morning. And what a morning, and what a sky, layered with a snakeskin pattern in scarlet as pearl white cumulus towered above the Giant and sheets of black blew by, traveling fast south to north, while in front of Waialeale, gray clouds touched all the way to the ground.
That’s where I ran into my neighbor Andy, who I don’t see all that often unless I walk late, which was the case today, since I was waiting for the rain to leave and the light to arrive. It’s a little treacherous walking in the dark on a branch-littered road that has small streams running down either side, especially when so many motorists would rather force me into the wet grass than turn their steering wheels a few inches to the left, even when they have the run of the whole damn road.
Andy and I got to talking about new plans — is this the third or fourth resurrection of that still bad idea? — to study the feasibility of a hydro project at Wailua Falls. As Kauai Sierra Club President Judy Dalton noted in a recent email, after spying a public notice in The Garden Island last November:
The project is to make electricity and includes: "a 503-foot-long, 23-foot-high earth-filled, roller-compacted-concrete dam creating a 35-acre reservoir with storage capacity of approximately 430 acre-feet" It also includes a 20 foot high intake structure, fish screens, a closure gate, a penstock, a powerhouse of 60 X 40 feet, channel to return water to the river, (below the falls) a switchyard with transformer, and almost 2 mile long transmission line to the Lydgate substation. No mention is made of roads and other changes that would be necessary. "The estimated annual generation of the Wailua project would be 20.7 gigawatt-hours."
Here’s a link to the Federal Register notice, which includes details on how to comment; the deadline is 11:30 a.m. Sunday. Disturbingly, it’s the exact same project that was proposed — and shot down — five years ago.
Andy recalled voting against the project when he was on the county Planning Commission in the early 1990s, and I recalled Rep. Mina Morita and the late David Boynton both fighting hard against earlier incarnations.
But here it is again, and this time it’s part of a broader effort by KIUC and Free Flow Power Corp. to explore the feasibility of four hydro projects on Kauai. Although the Wailua Falls project isn’t specifically mentioned in a KIUC news release I received via email — nor are any of the others — the initiative is apparently driven by the availability of federal funds:
The financial strength of the co-op provides an opportunity to move forward with this important project. KIUC has access to low-cost government sponsored financing. The Rural Utility Service (RUS) has recently approved a loan guarantee of $110 million, which makes available significant funding for renewable projects.
At any rate, KIUC is promising to “engage the community in broad discussions about appropriate technologies, locations and the wide range of environmental, cultural, economic and other concerns” at public meetings that reportedly are now being lined up.
While I understand KIUC just entered into the agreement with Free Flow this week, it doesn’t play well that the comment deadline on the Wailua Falls feasibility study permit comes before any public discussion locally. Nor does it look good that KIUC's release touting a commitment to public involvement fails to include the most rudimentary details about the four hydro projects under consideration.
Gay & Robinson is reportedly opposed to the other hydro projects, which involve instream systems in irrigation ditches. Apparently G&R doesn't want to relinquish its control over ditch water to KIUC.
Anyway, it seems like it’s all really an issue for the state Commission on Water Resource Management, which determines instream flow standards and who has control over the water.
Andy and I also discussed the news that the lateral trail to Lepeuli (Larsen’s) Beach will not be blocked by Bruce Laymon’s fencing project, as I reported earlier this week.
While Andy was glad the trail would remain open, he said his bigger concern is establishing the alaloa, especially while people like Linda Akana Sproat, who recalled walking on it as a child, are still around to share their experiences. And as we both agreed, it would be nice to have a coastal trail (as opposed to a bike path) around the island, especially since — as I’ve reported numerous times — so many land owners are planting vegetation onto the sand, which blocks access along the beach itself.
Problem is, if the state doesn’t want to take on the alaloa issue, it’s very expensive for a private party to pursue it, as there are both esoteric legal principles and complicated factual issues at stake. Plus the case would have to be filed in the Kauai courts, which is never a cheery prospect.