Drilling project creeps ahead

LIHUE — After a four-month time out, the wheels are again turning on the Kauai Department of Water’s proposal for a high-elevation well near Mount Kahili.

Whether they are turning fast enough — or should be turning at all — was up for debate Tuesday.

Louise Sausen of Haena questioned how the DOW can be sure the drilling project won’t have negative impacts on the land.

“Don’t mess with Mother Nature unless you’re for sure,” she said. “If you’re not for sure it ain’t happening. This is desecration.”

The Board of Water Supply unanimously voted that the DOW’s contractors for the controversial project get started on a thorough economic feasibility study, one that would justify moving forward with a full-scale environmental impact statement.

Ex-officio board member Michael Dahilig said the project has to make financial sense for the ratepayers of Kauai.

“We cannot build something that looks sexy and then have to pay three times as much,” he said.

Although he did not want to minimize the work already done, Dahilig said he felt as if many of his questions of the DOW had still not been answered, and that he was not comfortable supporting an the EIS.

DOW Manager David Craddick recommended that the board restart the project EIS with a revised public information program, which would include special meetings with cultural, environmental and activists groups, as well as developing communitywide educational materials on the project.

Board Vice Chair Clyde Nakaya said he would not support the recommendation based on Craddick’s presentation Tuesday.

Craddick said Tuesday that the estimated $60 million project would provide increased source reliability, insure against future well water contamination and reduce operational costs by minimizing electrical power usage and treatment costs.

“The people who will benefit are our existing customers,” he said.

Public testimony Tuesday brought up a number of the same concerns voiced during an April scoping meeting on the project, including the cultural significance of the area, seeking other alternatives for saving power and that more water would encourage more development.

Robert Pa, representing the Kingdom of Atooi, said the water belongs to the people, and that he believes the project is just another way to take away from the people.

Others questioned the inconvenient time of the meeting and said the DOW was not being transparent.

During her testimony, Kauai County Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura requested that Board Member Hugh Strom not be allowed to vote on the matter due to a conflict of interest, as his employer could be directly impacted by the project.  

Strom is the executive vice president of Aqua Engineers, Inc., which was subcontracted by Grove Farm Company to design, build, operate and maintain the first surface water treatment plant on Kauai.

“He will be affected by the decisions and I believe not be an objective decision maker on this matter,” she said. “I believe that he should recuse himself.”

Strom said he has already been approved to serve on the BWS, and that he has a lot to offer.

In May, the Kauai Board of Ethics found that while there was no inherent conflict, “there may be specific issues coming before the Board of Water in which an employee of Aqua Engineers would be in conflict with his duty to the Board. Mr. Strom can avoid these conflicts by declaring them as they arise and recusing himself from discussion and voting on such issues.”

Board Chair Randall Nishimura said the BWS would discuss the matter.

The economic feasibility study is expected to be complete in 30 to 60 days.

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