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Court considers Hu Honua liens

An initial court hearing was held Friday on two of the mechanics’ and materialmans’ liens filed in connection with the Hu Honua Bioenergy power plant under construction at Pepeekeo.

The applications were filed by subcontractor American Electric Co. and supplier Graybar Electric Co.

Blake Bushnell, a Honolulu attorney representing Hu Honua, noted that his client is the “common defendant” in all the litigation, but that the major action is the one claiming more than $35 million in unpaid bills filed by Hawaiian Dredging Construction Co.

“They’re the general contractor and are, for lack of a better word, the master lien,” Bushnell told Hilo Circuit Judge Glenn Hara. “All of the subcontractors and suppliers are subsumed in their lien claim. … So, what we’re proposing, in a nutshell, is to … consolidate all of these cases. … It would be our preference, if the court would accommodate us, to have all of these actions before one judge and to have them all tied to the Hawaiian Dredging lien. It would all be related to that.”

Bushnell noted that Hawaiian Dredging’s contract with Hu Honua and its subcontracts contain arbitration clauses. He added that an initial hearing on Hawaiian Dredging’s claim is scheduled for March 13 before Hilo Circuit Judge Greg Nakamura.

“I cannot speak for Judge Nakamura, but I would think that if all of the parties agree to … consolidate the cases, … I believe that would bring all of the cases here,” Hara said.

Erik Eike, American Electric’s Honolulu attorney, said there is not yet an agreement to consolidate, but he suspects “such an agreement will be reached.” He asked the judge to set a probable cause hearing “with the understanding that there will probably be some alternative resolution procedures that may be agreed to.”

Hara set a probable cause hearing on American’s and Graybar’s actions for 8 a.m. April 16. Six lien applications have been filed, to date, naming Hu Honua, and five of those are still active. Gary Yokoyama, Hawaiian Dredging’s vice president and general counsel, told the Tribune-Herald on Feb. 3 that his company was “in the process of demobilizing from the site.”

Hu Honua announced in a written statement three days later that a new contractor, Performance Mechanical Inc. of Pittsburg, Calif., was the new general contractor and that “construction is expected to return to full-staffing levels by mid-summer.”

The Environmental Protection Agency on Feb. 7 ordered the state’s Clean Air Branch to modify or reissue an air-pollution permit for Hu Honua. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy ruled the Clean Air Branch failed to take into consideration pollutants that would be generated by the start-up, shutdown or malfunction of the plant, which would generate electricity from eucalyptus trees and other plant matter.

Hu Honua signed an agreement two years ago to supply Hawaiian Electric Light Co. with power. Hu Honua estimated at the time that the 21.5-megawatt plant on the site of the former Hilo Coast Processing Co. would supply 10 percent of the island’s electricity needs.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaii


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