By TOM CALLIS
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Geothermal relocation requests would be limited to existing homeowners under a bill before the Hawaii County Council.
The bill, introduced by Puna Councilman Greggor Illagan, would limit eligibility for the program to anyone who owns a home near Puna Geothermal Venture within 90 days of the bill’s adoption.
Illagan said he is trying to “cut the bleeding” for the relocation fund that has become overtaxed with about two dozen requests.
The fund, which also covers “community benefits” for Puna, has $3.3 million, including a $1 million reserve that can’t be touched for home purchases. That can cover five or six of the requests, which are funded at up to 130 percent of assessed value, according to the county Planning Department.
The bill would also allow the reserve to be used toward relocations.
Illagan said he doesn’t want the rule change to affect the existing applications.
“I’m kind of honoring their intent and their application and making sure we pretty much cut the bleeding,” he said.
The relocation program is intended to help people adversely affected by the plant to relocate, though it makes no requirements for having to prove any impacts.
The application says that homes must have been purchased before 1989 and be within one mile of the plant.
But Planning staff say they don’t hold homeowners to those rules, saying they simply give preference to applicants who meet the requirements.
Of the existing applications, only one meets the purchase-date requirement, though all appear to be about a mile away.
Five relocations have been approved with the most recent purchase in 2012.
The relocation program is funded through the county’s share of its geothermal royalties. It also covered rent for the Pahoa council office. Illagan said that is now being covered by council services. He plans to relocate the office to the former police station in Pahoa, which he said would save the county $24,000 a year.
The bill was first heard Tuesday before the Committee on Agriculture, Water and Energy Sustainability.
The committee will consider it again May 29.
Email Tom Callis at firstname.lastname@example.org.