LANAI CITY – Lanai residents turned out Saturday to express strong opposition to bringing “big wind” to their island for the benefit of Oahu consumers.
Testifiers expressed concern about how a proposed wind farm by Castle & Cooke could impact the environment, cultural sites, hunting access and scenic views if it were allowed to proceed on up to 12,800 acres on the northwestern end of the island. While state and federal officials said their purpose was to gather comments on a big-picture plan for an interisland wind system, without focusing on any one specific project, Lanai residents said it was impossible to comment on the impacts of the larger plan without scrutinizing Castle & Cooke’s proposal.
“I’m very troubled by this whole concept,” said Lanai City resident Robin Kaye. “How can you have this cumulative study without looking at the specific impacts?”
The U.S. Department of Energy and the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism hosted the scoping meeting Saturday in the Lanai High and Elementary School cafeteria.
It followed similar meetings on Maui and Molokai earlier in the week.
The purpose of the meetings was to gather comments on a “programmatic” environmental impact statement on the Hawaii Interisland Renewable Energy Program, a broadly sketched plan to develop wind power farms on Maui, Molokai and Lanai, and to lay an undersea cable to send the power to Oahu.
Tony Cuomo of the U.S. Department of Energy said the study was meant to be a “broad, high-level review” of the overall program.
“What we are not here to do is to evaluate the Castle and Cooke proposal,” he said.
But Isaac Hall, attorney for the group Friends of Lanai, took issue with that.
He noted that critical details of the plan, including basic facts like the location of wind turbines, are listed as unknown in the proposal, even though Castle & Cooke has already offered those specifics. The proposal also doesn’t disclose whether or not the U.S. military is involved in the project, even though some drafts have indicated the undersea cables could make landfall at Kaneohe Marine Base on Oahu.
“I don’t think this scoping project can work until they satisfy their first obligation to disclose what they know,” he said.
Lanai City resident Beverly Zigmond noted that the environmental impact statement was required to consider a variety of alternatives. But the only alternative mentioned in the document was “no action.” She said it should have explored other options, like increasing energy conservation or installing solar panels on Oahu homes.
“The choices are big wind or nothing,” she said.
Many Lanai residents spoke with emotion about the remote and rugged northwestern part of the island considered the likely site for as many as 200 wind turbines under Castle & Cooke’s proposal.
“I depend on these ahupuaa to put food on my table . . . and maintain my family’s connection to the land,” said Kaulana Kahoohalahala. “This project will change that area forever.”
“The area you want to develop is one our favorite areas for camping, fishing, gathering, hunting and even studying the stars,” said Donna Stokes. “There’s not too many places you can find like that. It’s because we don’t have those city lights.”
She said the blinking lights on the turbines would disrupt night-flying birds that nest in the area, and the windmill blades would destroy the “magnificent” scenic views.
Stokes was also concerned about the noise impacts of the project, saying one of the things residents liked about Lanai was that it was so quiet that a person standing in a field could hear “one fly buzzing.”
“Can you imagine 200 windmill blades turning in our backyard?” she asked. “How will you prevent that noise from driving us crazy?”
A number of testifiers also questioned why more focus was not given to increasing conservation on Oahu.
“It is not Lanai and Molokai’s responsibility to keep the air conditioning running on Oahu,” she said. “Oahu is not being told to cut back – we are being told to enable it.”
“Each island should be responsible for their natural resources,” added Christine Costales. “They shouldn’t take it from here. It’s not pono. It should be taken from their own resources.”
Others questioned the credibility of Castle & Cooke, and the company’s pledge that its wind project would benefit residents of Lanai.
“I have a hard time standing here and saying we can trust what they say,” said Ron McOmber of the group Lanaians for Sensible Growth. “What we have learned from Castle and Cooke in the last 20 years makes me very suspect that they will keep their promise to this community.”
Two testifiers spoke in favor of the project. Joseph and Priscilla Felipe said the island needed another alternative to boost its flagging economy and generate jobs.
“We need help to keep our economy on Lanai,” said Priscilla Felipe. “If we don’t do something, what’s going to happen to our people?”
Joseph Felipe, unit chairman for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union on Lanai, said many hotel workers had been laid off, and that those remaining had had their hours cut. He said the company needed to move forward with its wind energy plan.
“If that will strengthen the Castle and Cooke financial picture and help to stabilize the expenses and keep the Four Seasons operating, then by all means we need to do that,” he said. “What alternative do we have?”
But Matthew Mano said he understood that most of the jobs generated by the project would be temporary construction jobs, and only 20 permanent jobs would be created.
“I heard about jobs,” he said. “Twenty. Whoop-de-doo. Three-hundred-fifty people are without jobs right now.”
Mano’s voice trembled, and he choked back emotion as he described growing up hunting and fishing on Lanai, and how he has returned to the area again and again over the years to provide food for his family.
“We were sustainable before anybody else,” he said. “Oahu depleted all their resources – now they want to deplete ours. Is that fair to those of us who were born and raised here? No.”
For more information about the Hawaii Interisland Renewable Energy Program, visit www.hirepwind.com.