Kekaha photovoltaic project, others get new OK

KEKAHA — With revised budgets and project details ironed out, the finalists in the Kekaha Host Community Benefits program are now in the hands of county departments and the mayor’s office for selection.

The Kekaha Host Community Benefits — Citizens’ Advisory Committee held its final recommendation meeting Monday evening at the Kekaha Neighborhood Center.

The committee approved four projects at its April meeting. At this meeting the committe was responding to the mayor’s request to reduce budgets and answer questions.

The E Ola Mau – Kekaha photovoltaic project is the largest project and was recommended with its full $780,000 request for phase one of a $4.4 million long-term project. Phase one would place 122 photovoltaic systems in the homes of Kekaha residents, starting with eldest residents.

The goal is to eventually have the entire community equipped, and to set an example for the West Side and the entire island.

“This started with three gentleman from Kekaha who had a feeling of what would be a good thing to do with the community,” Wayne Ayudan said during his presentation.

Ayudan said the trio — himself, Dennis Eguchi and Garrett Agena — dreamed of a project for deserving residents that would ease the burden on their utility bills, modernize their homes and take Kekaha homes off the power grid as much as possible.

“All this led to tonight,” Ayudan added. “We searched our hearts and told ourselves that this would work if we reached out to every resident and owner. With your help we will make sure all this gets done.”

CAC Chairman Bruce Pleas said that the Pacific Missile Range Facility plans to be completely solar powered within three years, and that he hopes Kekaha will be right there with them. He said the project should inspire the entire island to be fitted with photovoltaic systems within seven years.

“I would like to see this go to Waimea and to each community,” Pleas said. “They have done a lot of work here and it is impressive.”

All of this from a project that began in seventh place as a priority, Pleas said. The project started with a goal of 63 full or 160 partial photovoltaic systems. But after working through qualification criteria, the CAC said it was impressed with the transformation from a segment to a full community project with strong support.

“The community came to vote on it and wanted it right away,” Pleas said.

With approximately 900 homes in the Kekaha area, the ambitious project presents a long-term challenge, but advocates hope to help offset costs for low-income residents to install solar water heaters.

On Monday, the CAC resolved concerns with the 11 resident project committee that appeared to have power to approve or deny resident applications. The CAC wanted to ensure the county had that authority and the committee would serve to verify residency information.

CAC facilitator Diane Zachary recommended that the group works with the county on questionnaires and issues.

Kaua‘i County Energy Coordinator Ben Sullivan was present at the meeting to answer any questions the project leaders or the committee might have.

There was no one present to represent “Trashology 101,” a Boys & Girls Club of Hawai‘i project on Zero Waste for Kekaha’s keiki in grades 3 to 5.  After much debate about whether to request a deferral from the mayor, or to send a no-recommendation, the CAC said that would be the wrong message and approved to recommend the project for $5,000.

Pleas said he was concerned with a payroll fringe and that the paid trainer hours seemed high. There were also questions about mileage, telecommunications costs and publication premiums.

The mayor had asked that the project drop its $50,000 request. The largest line item had been a $43,500 half-time coordinator position.

“We are done with our process,” said CAC member Robert Jackson in the meeting. “We are sending the information that the county wants to make their choices. They want our recommendations. Is the deferral sending a wrong message?”

“We already recommended it,” said CAC member Myra Elliot.

The board voted down the motion to defer but did agree to recommend with attention to a $200 discrepancy.

In a similar request, the Kekaha Community Garden was asked to reduce its $50,000 “Many Hands, Light Work” project to $5,000. Director Dianne Shoemaker said she would work with other sources of funding to make the project succeed and said she appreciated the approval for the reduced grant.

The nonprofit operates a 6,500-square-foot garden that is open to island residents, although most of the communal gardeners are Kekaha residents. Much of the organic produce goes to Nana’s House and West Kaua‘i Interchurch.

There was a lot of discussion about express restrictions on using grant funds for salaries. There was concern that there was not such a restriction but the CAC said it would send a message that funds are for community use and not staff salaries.

The American Cultural Arts Cooperative’s Rainbow Road Project was recommended to reduce its request from $15,000 to $5,000. Project director Ron Olen also agreed to committee recommendations that he donate sound, video and computer equipment purchased with grant funds to the Kekaha Neighborhood Center at the conclusion of the project.

The Kekaha Pop Warner Football Community Awareness Presentations project had already been approved for $5,000. The CAC said it is good for youth basketball, and that most of the money is going to 50 youth scholarships.

The Kekaha Elementary School Garden Project and The St. Theresa School Renewable Energy Project also were already funded.

The County of Kaua‘i established the Kekaha Host Community Benefits Fund in 2008 to compensate that community for hosting the Kekaha Landfill Horizontal Expansion landfill. Projects that receive committee approval are to be forwarded to the county for the mayor to review and approve funding from $885,000 available for grant proposals that benefit Kekaha residents.

Pleas said that for 2013 the group is working on a stronger outreach effort to increase the community building process to six months or longer. For 2012, Please said the timetable was compressed with just enough time to run workshops for groups to complete the forms and get through the application process.

For a more concise process they would like at least six weeks for the short form applications and 12 weeks for the long-term projects asking for $50,000 or more.

“Other changes are to look at the first part of the process and work with the community so they know what they can do with what we have,” Pleas said.

CAC member Jose Bulatao, Jr. brought up the idea about reforming CAC to better reflect the community it serves. The CAC will reconvene on Sept. 10 when it will elect new officers.

The CAC invites community groups and non-profit organizations to watch for a future round of solicitations to apply for HCB funding.  They also encourage Kekaha residents to volunteer to serve on the CAC. Learn more at www.KekahaHCB.net.

• Tom LaVenture, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or tlaventure@thegardenisland.com.

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