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Geothermal health study sought


Tribune-Herald staff writer

The Windward Planning Commission is looking for guidance on how it can tap into a $2.1 million Geothermal Asset Fund.

Facing requests by two County Council members on how it can use the fund for a health study in Puna, the commission will hear a presentation from the county Planning Department on the background of the fund on Thursday, and have a discussion about how the fund can be used.

The meeting will begin at 9 a.m. in the Aupuni Center Conference Room, 101 Pauahi St., Hilo.

Puna Geothermal Venture pays $50,000 into the fund each year, which has never been used. The Windward Planning Commission has jurisdiction over the use of the fund.

But Commission Chairman Zendo Kern, who has been on the board since June 2009, said it had never been tapped during his tenure.

Councilman Dominic Yagong informed the commission that his office received a request from a group calling itself the Puna Pono Alliance, which is seeking funding for a $200,000 health study to study potential health impacts of the geothermal plant.

Yagong also seeks clearance from the process for considering the funding request, because the process for approving a health study “is not clearly defined” in the Planning Commission’s rules regarding oversight of the fund.

Meanwhile, Councilman Fred Blas has also requested the commission inform him of “the proper procedures and protocols” for using the funds to conduct an “independent, comprehensive, health study in Puna to determine possible negative impacts of geothermal power producing activities” at PGV.

“Many residents of the area around the plant have requested health studies for years … It is my position that an independent, comprehensive health study by qualified professionals is long overdue and should be undertaken as soon as possible,” said Blas in the letter, dated Aug. 8.

“My hope for this is that all the parties are going to come to the table,” Kern said.

The process outlined in the Planning Commission’s rules state that all claims for money shall be filed by a person or organization “adversely impacted under the activity of geothermal development” and subject to the review of a claims adjuster.

It’s unclear how the funding of a health study may be done using this process.

“As a commission, we can make the necessary amendments if we need to,” Kern said.

Kern won’t be around long enough to vote on the health study requests: His last meeting as chairman of the commission will be in November, and he will be sworn in as the new 5th District councilman in December.

The posted agenda only mentions that commissioners will have a “discussion” on the proposed amendments and on the council members’ letters.

Robert Petricci, a founding member of Puna Pono Alliance, said the Planning Department will make a presentation, likely followed by a presentation of Puna Pono Alliance about what the group is proposing, followed by statements from the public.

His group’s health study would be led by Dr. Kaye Kilburn of California.

“Dr. Kilburn is the leading researcher for hydrogen sulfide in the United States, and he has many papers published on hydrogen sulfide,” Petricci said, referring to the invisible volcanic gas that has been blamed for many adverse health effects in the East Rift Zone. “He’s really well-known and accomplished.”

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