By ERIN MILLER
A final measure to show the county’s support of a four-year West Hawaii college passed first reading Wednesday morning, despite dissenting votes from three East Hawaii council members.
South Kona Councilwoman Brenda Ford brought forward Bill 289, the seventh such measure this year, to create a paperwork placeholder of sorts for funding for a classroom building at the conceptual four-year University of Hawaii campus. Ford’s previous measures established funding paperwork for athletic and arts facilities.
“This bill, along with the other six, tells (the University of Hawaii) this county is putting the stake in the ground for a four-year West Hawaii campus,” she said. “This is not about the county paying money.”
The bill calls for $4 million to fund a science classroom and laboratory building. Ford said the figure was not based on any construction estimates, but was selected to put a dollar figure in the bill.
To get a campus in place will require a coalition between the county, state and university system, as well as private donors to fund construction. Ford said after the vote she would like to pursue a partnership with a professional baseball team, for example, to cover costs for a baseball field. Such a team could practice here in the off season, leasing the field from the county, and pay for maintenance year-round, she said.
University officials have said they do not plan to expand beyond a community college at the West Hawaii site, within the Palamanui development, north of Kaiminani Drive, Ford said.
“Every time they have a public meeting they keep saying no,” she said. “They’ve been saying no for 20 years.”
Hilo Councilman Donald Ikeda said he gave his support to Ford’s earlier measures, but would not be supporting Bill 289. Hilo Councilman Dennis Onishi criticized Ford’s measures.
“The county’s going to have the liability of the maintenance,” he said. “You’re going to be increasing government again.”
Further, he said, some West Hawaii council members had been critical of him and other East Hawaii council members when the council considered funding construction of the Kapiolani Street extension, which will serve the University of Hawaii-Hilo.
Ikeda, Onishi and Puna Councilman Fred Blas voted against the measure. The council will consider the final reading next month.
The council unanimously approved a resolution, brought forward by Hilo Councilman J Yoshimoto, asking Hawaiian Electric Light Co. to renegotiate its power purchase agreement contracts with renewable power producers so the pricing is no longer based on avoided cost. Doing so, the resolution said, could result in electric bill savings. The resolution also tells HELCO officials to bring a report on their renegotiating efforts to the council Oct. 17.
The council postponed action on Bill 266, which provided new rules for agricultural tourism.
Email Erin Miller at email@example.com.