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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, November 13, 2001

Mediation could be way to solve Wa'ahila

The proposal by Hawaiian Electric Co. for a mediated settlement to the contentious issue of high-voltage power lines along Wa'ahila Ridge has a certain amount of merit, when you think about it.

The power line issue has become enormously divisive, with the electric company facing an army of community opposition.

Some critics contend there is simply no need for the completion of a "ring of reliability" with backup sources of power to downtown Honolulu and Waikiki that the Wa'ahila Ridge would serve. Others accept HECO's reliability argument, but are opposed to stringing this high-voltage loop atop the scenic ridge.

For almost a week, retired judge E. John McConnell heard arguments for and against the project as a prelude to making a recommendation to the Board of Land and Natural Resources.

Unfortunately, the issue before the board is primarily one of approve or disapprove. It can impose some condition that could affect the environmental impact of the power lines if it gives the go-ahead. But essentially, it faces a go, no-go decision.

Mediation, if all agree, would allow for more creativity and the possibility of a solution that would satisfy the greatest number of stakeholders.

Take, for example, the alternative of routing the high-voltage lines either above ground or underground through Palolo Valley. Most Palolo Valley residents, understandably, would object strenuously to the above-ground option. But there also appears to be strong objection in the community to an underground option, since it would entail large amounts of construction and disruption.

But might there be room for a compromise settlement here? Think of it as a sharing of equities.

A great deal of the objection to the route along Wa'ahila Ridge has to do with aesthetics. The poles would damage viewplanes both from the valleys and from Waikiki.

If the lines go elsewhere, the community as a whole would gain an important equity: enhanced and protected views and environment. But someone else would lose equity: Palolo, which would have to put up with the noise and disruption of construction as well as the presence of high-voltage lines in its neighborhood.

A mediated settlement, however, might be able to share some of the equity gained by the general community with Palolo. An "environmental" or "aesthetic" surcharge on electric bills might be imposed (with the exception of those in the Palolo community) to support the costs not only of undergrounding the high-voltage lines but all utility lines.

This would certainly increase property values in Palolo, thus shifting some of the general gain to the specific benefit of those affected.

The residents of Palolo would have to be full partners in any such agreement, of course. And there could be technical or political reasons why it would not work.

But a complicated settlement of this nature cannot be forged in the context of a win-lose permit process. For that reason, all parties should at least explore the idea of mediation before pushing ahead on this difficult issue.