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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, November 2, 2001

New HECO plan hides five Wa'ahila Ridge poles

 •  Details of the Wa'ahila Ridge case

By Rod Ohira and Walter Wright
Advertiser Staff Writers

Hawaiian Electric Co. is willing to move five of the most conspicuous poles in the proposed Pukele transmission line off Wa'ahila Ridge so they could not be seen from Manoa Valley, the project director told a state hearing officer yesterday.

HECO project manager Kerstan Wong points to the location of the proposed power lines and poles on a model of Wa'ahila Ridge.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

Kerstan Wong, project manager of the plan to replace existing ridge-line poles with taller towers for a 138,000-volt line, said moving the five poles would leave three poles visible from MŒnoa but screened by trees, and only one pole, toward the back of the valley, in silhouette on the ridge.

The suggestion to move the poles didn't mollify either Life of the Land or the Outdoor Circle, both of which insist the new line isn't even necessary. And attorneys for Malama o Manoa said preserving the scenery of the valley wasn't their only concern.

Wong was the leadoff witness testifying before retired Maui Circuit Judge E. John McConnell, the officer presiding over hearings on whether HECO should be granted permission to install poles 80 to 115 feet tall on state conservation land on the ridge between Manoa and Palolo valleys.

McConnell will recommend to the state Board of Land and Natural Resources whether to accept or deny HECO's application.

Criticism from residents

The hearings are the latest development for the $31 million proposal that has drawn criticism from Manoa residents and community groups who say the transmission line isn't needed and the poles would create an eyesore. HECO, however, says the transmission line is needed to prevent major failures such as one in 1983 that left most of O'ahu in the dark.

"The sparring is over, we're in the fight rounds now," Malama o Manoa attorney Corey Park said.

Wong told McConnell that while views from St. Louis Heights would have to be considered, he doubted any in that neighborhood would see the poles silhouetted against the sky, let alone against the green background of the ridge.

He said the company had been surveying new sites for the five poles ever since state land board member Lynn McCrory asked at a March hearing if such a revision was possible.

Wong said he saw no technical reason why the line could not run at that point through a swale on the kokohead side of the ridge, rather than along the ridgetop itself, where lower voltage poles have been in place for years.

HECO has spent millions of dollars since 1993 on two environmental impact statements and public information about its proposal to connect its Pukele substation in Palolo Valley and Kamoku Street substation near Iolani School to close a gap between its northern and southern transmission corridors.

Blackout worries

The link would involve adding a third 138,000-volt line to Pukele from the Ko'olau substation and linking it to Kamoku via overhead lines along Wa'ahila Ridge and underground lines through the University of Hawai'i-Manoa's Lower Campus to Date and Kamoku streets. The project would prevent a major blackout that would affect 54 percent of HECO's customers, said HECO spokesman Chuck Freedman.

Malama o Manoa, The Outdoor Circle and Life of the Land are the leading opponents of the project, which they say will mar the landscape and damage the historic and cultural significance of the ridge to Native Hawaiian groups.

"We feel confident the Public Trust Doctrine doesn't only apply to water but applies to all natural resources," Helen Nakano of Malama o Manoa said. "If we don't stop power lines on conservation land in this case, then what will protect all the other ridges on the island."

Fifty-three witnesses are scheduled to testify during the court-like hearing process. Any decision by the land board will likely be appealed to the state court.

HECO, meanwhile, also needs to get city planning permits and approval from the state Public Utilities Commission. In 1997, Mayor Jeremy Harris said he would halt any city approval for the project.

The 1983 islandwide blackout triggered a series of studies on the reliability of HECO's transmission system that led to a Stone & Webster Management Consultants recommendation the following year to construct a southern transmission corridor. In 1985, HECO began planning and constructing its southern corridor, which starts at Campbell Industrial Park and moves eastward.

Project's need questioned

The first environmental impact statement for the Kamoku-Pukele project was submitted to the land board in December 1998 and rejected the following month. The board accepted a revised environmental impact statement last November.

Malama o Manoa co-counsel Pam Bunn yesterday asked project manager Wong if any major power failures had occurred at the 40-year-old Pukele station because it lost one of its two lines while the other was down for maintenance, a scenario HECO had presented in its arguments. Wong said he knew of only a 1988 incident in which the system went down for a fraction of a second and affected no customers.

"Given the reliability of the electrical system and given the availability of a viable alternative, the question is, why do this?" Bunn said.

HECO disputed figures at yesterday's hearing that the alternative, which is to go underground all the way from Kamoku through Palolo Valley, would only be 28 percent more expensive. The all-underground route would cost $46 million, which is $15 million more than the Wa'ahila option, Freedman said.

• • •

Details of the Wa'ahila Ridge case

Proposal: Hawaiian Electric Co. wants to establish a link between its Pukele substation in Palolo Valley and Kamoku substation at Iolani Court Plaza. The $31 million proposal calls for underground and controversial overhead lines on Wa'ahila Ridge between Manoa and Palolo valleys. Poles from 80 to 115 feet high would be installed on the ridge. HECO is considering placing some of the higher poles in a swale on the kokohead side of Wa'ahila Ridge.

The hearings: Former Maui Circuit Judge E. John McConnell is presiding over the hearing on whether the Board of Land and Natural Resources should approve the proposal. The board has jurisdiction over the conservation land on Wa'ahila Ridge. The hearings began yesterday and will continue until next Friday in Room 322B of the Kalanimoku Building at 1151 Punchbowl St. The hearing is open to the public, but seating is limited.

The arguments: HECO says the power-line link would prevent major blackouts that could affect 54 percent of O'ahu customers. Malama o Manoa, the Outdoor Circle and Life of the Land want to protect Wa'ahila Ridge, which they say is a historical and spiritual site for Native Hawaiians. They also say the power poles and lines are an unsightly intrusion in the conservation district.

Witnesses: Fifty-three people are scheduled to testify

What's next: McConnell will make a recommendation on the proposal to the Board of Land and Natural Resources. The board's decision on the proposal can be appealed to the state courts. HECO must also obtain city permits and approval from the Public Utilities Commission.

The alternative: Build the power line underground between the Palolo and Kamoku substations, which HECO estimates will cost $46 million.