Land board needs more time on Wa'ahila plan
By James Gonser
Urban Honolulu Writer
The Board of Land and Natural Resources is expected to approve a 90-day extension tomorrow (Jan. 11) to allow more time to decide on HECO's plan to install steel poles and high-voltage power lines along Wa'ahila Ridge above Manoa Valley.
Land board chairman Gilbert Coloma-Agaran said that because HECO filed the original conservation-district use permit application for the project, it is the only party that can request an extension. Without an extension, the project would be automatically approved by the current Feb. 14 deadline if the land board does not make a decision by then, Coloma-Agaran said.
"My understanding is the request is being supported by all the parties to the case," Coloma-Agaran said.
HECO spokesman Chuck Freedman said the extension is appropriate.
"It is just to give the process more time," Freedman said. "The board will have to approve it. I believe they will."
HECO wants to install a 138kV transmission line to link the Pukele substation at the back of Palolo Valley to the Kamoku substation at Date and Kamoku streets, 3.8 miles away. The $31 million project would replace the existing 40-foot poles with new ones as tall as 120 feet.
HECO officials say the work is needed to ensure service to 54 percent of their customers and to prevent major power failures such as the one in 1983 that left most of O'ahu in darkness.
Environmental groups and some Manoa residents say the transmission line is unnecessary, that it could cause health problems and that the bigger poles would be an eyesore.
The land board has jurisdiction over the conservation land on Wa'ahila Ridge.
The board's decision can be appealed to the state courts. HECO must also obtain city permits and approval from the Public Utilities Commission.
Retired Maui Circuit Judge E. John McConnell conducted hearings on the request in November and will make a recommendation to the land board by Jan 31 on whether to accept or deny HECO's application.
A mediation attempt between HECO and opposition groups Malama o Manoa, Life of the Land and the Outdoor Circle failed.
All parties filed their statements and closing arguments with McConnell this week. After reviewing the documents, he will make a recommendation.
Attorney Pamela Bunn, who represents Malama o Manoa, said the extension is needed for all the information and testimony to be considered.
"The idea was that the board will just not have enough time to decide on all this by the deadline," Bunn said.
Bunn said that after McConnell makes his recommendation, the next step will be for the land board to set a deadline for all the parties to make objections to his proposal.
Then the board will finally vote on it.
Reach James Gonser at email@example.com or 535-2431.