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Senate Scraps County Permitting for Geothermal Development

March 22, 2013, 1:20 PM HST (Updated March 22, 2013, 1:57 PM)
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A bill intended to increase county authority over geothermal development was killed in a joint committee hearing yesterday.

“It’s very disappointing” former Hawaii County mayor Harry Kim said today, describing his frustration over the bill’s failure.

House Bill 106 would have required geothermal developers to apply for county permits when seeking sites that fall within “agricultural, rural, and urban districts.”

“Act 97” which was passed in 2012, eliminated a requirement that geothermal projects stay within designated sub zones. Supporters viewed it as a way to streamline alternative energy development.

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But after its passage, county officials cried afoul over the lack of authority provided to local planning agencies, claiming the law effectively sidestepped their ability to review geothermal resource permits.

An earlier version of HB 106 had called for a full repeal of Act 97, in an effort to restore the geothermal sub zones.

According to former mayor Kim, Act 97’s elimination of sub zones meant “essentially you could drill anywhere, with just a permit from the DLNR.”

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Kim compared Act 97 to the much maligned “Act 55” which created the Public Land Development Corporation.

Former mayor Harry Kim. Image file from Wikimedia Commons.

Former mayor Harry Kim. Image file from Wikimedia Commons.

“The issue is home rule,” Kim explained, adding “with these kinds of laws, we’ve crossed a red line in terms of government authority and transparency.”

The former mayor expressed concern at what he described was a lack of awareness about Act 97 among island residents.

“People understood the problem with the PLDC, because it was a big, statewide issue” said Kim, who was motivated to run for a third term as mayor last year over the handling of geothermal development.

Kim also expressed frustration with the roadblocks facing outer-island residents wanting to testify at yesterdays hearing, explaining “We had two days notice, and we couldn’t even get plane seats.”

Booking a quick trip to Oahu was also expensive, according to the former mayor, who commented “You’re talking about a $400 trip for us to testify. To make it home yesterday I had to buy a first class ticket.”

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