Rain, always a welcome visitor, came in the night and lingered, its darkness delaying the dawn. Trees shook themselves like dogs, creating secondary showers as Koko and Pa`ele — yes, he’s back for a bit — and I went walking this morning through a green landscape that was muted by mist and downpours in the distance. Gray ghosts drifted through the gap in the Giant, Waialeale temporarily ceased to exist and small rivers ran alongside the road. The sun, well hidden, offered nary a clue that it had risen.
Members of the East Kauai Water Uses Cooperative, whose system includes the Wailua reservoir, had nary a clue that KIUC was seeking approval to study the feasibility of a 6.6 megawatt hydro project on its system until they read about it in yesterday’s paper. By then, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission had approved the utility’s application for a preliminary permit.
As the paper reported:
Filed by energy developer Free Flow Power on behalf of KIUC, the Wailua River Hydroelectric Project permit calls for the construction of a 23-foot-high, 508-foot-long concrete diversion structure 1,000 feet upstream of Wailua River and a 35-acre reservoir, according to the FERC application.
It stands to reason that such an extensive diversion would certainly impact, and most definitely involve, the water cooperative, which provides agricultural water to a number of farmers. So it seems that KIUC would have consulted extensively with the water cooperative — or at the bare minimum, given them a heads up — before filing such an application. But it did not.
As one observer noted bitterly: “They did it real haole style.”
In first announcing its plans to pursue hydro projects, KIUC promised that it would conduct the process in a transparent manner, with plenty of public involvement. To my knowledge, just one briefing has been held, and that was for the Kauai Economic Development Board — hardly the general public. I was even told that a session was being considered specifically for bloggers so we could be fully informed of the utility’s plans and have a chance to ask questions. But thus far, I’ve heard nothing.
Meanwhile, KIUC has filed six such applications within the last five months, and three have been approved — without any public involvement. According to The Garden Island’s account of a presentation that KIUC CEO, David Bissell made to the Lihue Business Association (again, hardly an open meeting with the general public):
Hiring Free Flow to quickly file preliminary permit applications along the island’s rivers and ditches is more about securing the resources for future development rather than allowing private energy developers access, Bissell said, comparing it to staking claims during a gold rush.
What right does KIUC have to “stake claims” to water, which in Hawaii is a public resource – especially without consulting the public that owns it and the farmers who are now using it?
Then Bissell discloses that this is not the end of it:
“There are three or four more permits that are expected to come into the fray,” Bissell said. “We have to have a lot in the works because some may not go through.”
So exactly when is KIUC planning to present its members - and the public — with a full account of its plans for our rivers? A cooperative should be consulting with its members every step of the way — and not through canned press releases, but dialogue in an open forum.
But at least, according to Bissell, the utility is not planning to dam the Wailua River for hydro — a controversial project that stood a snowball’s chance in hell of winning approval. A number of people thought the utility had just thrown that one out there so that it could withdraw it, thus pacifying the opposition.
As one observer noted: “It’s like asking someone, do you want me to kill you or just beat the hell out of you? Of course you’re going to choose the beating.”