By TOM CALLIS
Tribune-Herald staff writer
After being vetoed last week, two geothermal bills will get another chance Thursday as the Hawaii County Council votes on whether to override Mayor Billy Kenoi’s administrative dismissal.
Both bills were the product of renewed opposition to Puna’s geothermal plant and questions over the safety of the technology.
The legislation partially re-purposes the county’s geothermal royalties fund to allow it to cover public safety programs related to the plant, and mandates an emergency response plan for existing and future plants
In his veto message, Kenoi said the bills are unnecessary since it would duplicate the purpose of another geothermal fund and because the Big Island’s incident command system would cover a geothermal disaster. He also expressed concern with one of the bills preventing the county from selling homes it acquires through the geothermal relocation program.
County Council Chairman Dominic Yagong, who introduced the bills, said the move snubs the dozens of Puna residents who have called on the county to do more to ensure the nearly 20-year-old plant has no impact on health and safety.
He called the veto political (Yagong is one of Kenoi’s main challengers in this year’s election) and expects a large turnout of bill supporters at the meeting. Six votes are needed to overturn a veto.
“I truly believe that these bills were correct and we’re going to do our darnedest to make sure we do have our six votes,” Yagong said.
Kenoi did not return a request for comment by press time.
Recent council meetings have turned into marathon public comment sessions with Puna residents, both for and against the bills, speaking for hours to the council.
Pele Defense Fund President Palikapu Dedman said his group stands by the bills and will make its support known inside and outside the council chambers.
Dedman said PDF members will join geothermal opponents in testifying before the council and picketing that same day outside the county’s Hilo offices and possibly and state Department of Health building on Kamehameha Avenue.
“We’re bringing all that we can,” he said, adding that group members will also present Kenoi with a list of their concerns.
Dedman said he hopes to see at least 100 people picketing.
Thursday’s meeting will be held in Kailua-Kona, but those unable to make the trip can still speak to the council via videofeeds in Pahoa, Hilo and Waimea.
Dedman said he expects a lot of geothermal opponents and other supporters of the bills to testify from the windward side.
After spending hours testifying in past meetings, he doesn’t expect too many of them to be happy.
“After all those hours and days of testimony … with one stroke of the pen he shuts everybody off,” Dedman said. “That’s pretty bad.”
The geothermal bills aren’t the only legislation Yagong is seeking to revive.
The council will also consider on Thursday overriding Kenoi’s veto of a bill that Yagong introduced requiring the county to make payments into a county retiree benefits account.
Kenoi called the bill “ill-conceived” and “fiscally irresponsible.”
The county is deferring the payments, which the administration says prevents the county’s fund balance from being drawn down to unacceptable levels that would threaten its bond rating.
Email Tom Callis at email@example.com.