The Windward Planning Commission made a first but small step Thursday toward funding some of the recommendations of the geothermal working group.
The commission’s agenda included requests from Mayor Billy Kenoi to tap the county’s geothermal asset fund for several of the group’s recommended projects, including the purchase of stationary and hand-held gas monitors.
But due to rules regarding use of the fund, the commission’s action was limited to hiring a claims adjuster to review the funding requests.
The asset fund is meant to mitigate impacts from geothermal power production, and Planning Department staff said such requests for funds are required to be reviewed by an adjuster. A separate fund handles relocation requests.
The commission directed the county Planning Department to contract with John Mullen and Co.
A price for the contract was not given.
Planning Director Duane Kanuha said that will have to be worked out. He said the company is the only one on the department’s procurement list for that type of work.
Also included in Kenoi’s funding request was groundwater sampling in Kilauea’s East Rift Zone, an analysis of studies conducted on hydrogen sulfide and an environmental assessment of a former geothermal test site.
The requests are expected to total $277,500. The asset fund has about $2 million, and receives contributions of $50,000 a year from Puna Geothermal Venture.
Additionally, Kenoi had also requested $27,500 for a study on hospitalization and emergency department visits in Puna.
Kenoi withdrew that project at the request of the geothermal group, according to the county.
The mayor had the group formed to make recommendations on addressing health and safety issues regarding geothermal development on the island. So far, that is limited to the 38-megawatt Puna Geothermal Venture power plant, but the Hawaii Electric Light Co. wants to expand the use of geothermal power by up to 50 MW.
The group included about a dozen Puna residents selected by Peter Adler of Accord Consultants, who oversaw the process.
The group released a report in September.
Several members and other Puna residents encouraged the commission to fund the projects while also urging the county to conduct a comprehensive health study in Puna. Such a study was listed in the group’s recommendations but was not included in Kenoi’s initial funding requests.
“Let’s not put off a comprehensive study until another year,” said Paul Kuykendall. “Let’s not wait until another election.”
Jeff Melrose, who works on special projects with the county Research and Development Department, told the commission the study remains a priority but that it’s not that easy to put together.
Melrose said the county is speaking with the John A. Burns School of Medicine on developing a request for proposals.
“You’ll see a health study,” he said.
Melrose told the Tribune-Herald he could not estimate when a funding request for such a study will be brought before the commission, but he doesn’t expect it to take long.
“We need to do it right,” he said.
Some of the working group members said they had drafted their own RFP to be used. A county staff member said it more reflected a scope of work than a full proposal request.
Kenoi spoke before the commission and thanked members of the group for their work.
“Very legitimate questions were raised” regarding geothermal, he said. “These are the first steps, not the last steps.”
Email Tom Callis at firstname.lastname@example.org.