Almost one year to the day after visiting Lana’i as a candidate to solicit our votes (“No candidate can win a statewide election without the Neighbor Island vote,” he said then), Governor Abercrombie returned to Lana’i this past Saturday to talk with Lana’i residents. The occasion was our annual Pineapple Festival, and the Governor walked around town, had lunch at a local eatery, attended a two-hour public meeting in the cafeteria, and strolled through booths at the fair before winging his way back to O`ahu.
The Governor attempted a few opening remarks at the public session, but was quickly interrupted with a question about Lana’i’s healthcare challenges, in particular the long-overdue funding for our State-run community hospital. Shortly thereafter, the real concern on the minds of most who attended – Big Wind – erupted, prompting the Governor to plead more than an hour later, “Can’t we talk about something besides wind?”
Judging from the questions and comments, Governor Abercrombie has not made many fans on Lana’i, except perhaps for those who have been pressured by Castle & Cooke (CCR) and the ILWU to support the siting of the industrial wind power plant here – clear evidence not withstanding that there will be pitifully few jobs for Lana’i residents. Despite his continually saying, “I’m here to listen to you,” and “nothing definite has reached my desk yet,” the crowd of about 50 were clearly not satisfied.
Many in the crowd wore “No Windmills on Lana’i” T-shirts, and several residents carried signs that said “Stop the Wind,” or “Lana’i is not O’ahu’s Power Plant.” Questions ranged from the opening one: “What will it take for you to pull the plug on the Lingle/Murdock Big Wind project?” to “When will we learn what is really being planned for our island?”
One speaker representing the ILWU spoke about the need to grow jobs on Lana’i. Another speaker, a young Lana’i resident currently in college on O’ahu, spoke about her fears that this wind power plant would destroy the values she cherishes and wishes to pass on to her children. Others raised issues like the Australian government’s growing concern about the health issues raised by wind turbines.
The Governor then confirmed what many on Lana’i have long feared (but which has so far been denied) – he’s been talking with the Department of Defense about their playing a significant role in Big Wind. He implied that there is talk about the military’s role in “distribution,” which was not clearly defined. Perhaps he was referring to assertions made by Castle & Cooke in a PUC docket that they have set their sights on selling power directly to the Military, better known as “wheeling.”
Other questions were asked, voicing resident concerns about Lana’i’s airport and air service, its small boat harbor, and the State-leased hunting lands. To the latter, he replied, “I may be short, but I’m not stupid. Do you think I want to have all those folks with rifles angry at me? I’ll make sure hunting access continues even with the windmills” – a promise many in the crowd felt certain he could not keep.
Many of the residents who spoke complained about the Big Wind process, and expressed frustration that information is not coming to the community. One speaker mentioned that he’d been trying to set up a meeting with the Governor for the past four months, but had been continually ignored and/or put off. When one resident told the Governor “Don’t listen just to HECO and C&C,” he replied, “I’ve heard from lots of folks about this, and most of the people with whom I’ve met are opposed to it.”
After the public session, as the Governor walked around the Festival booths, many residents continued to ask him questions about the wind power plant, including this one: “Governor – you mentioned that nothing specific was yet on your desk. Why then have you been pushing SB367 (the stalled measure that would have established a regulatory system for the undersea cable)?” He got a bit agitated (as he did in the public meeting) and stopped, looked at the questioner and said, “We need a cable. How else will we capture the geothermal power from the Big Island?”
Editor’s note: Robin Kaye writes for Civil Beat from Lanai. He’s a spokesperson for Friends of Lāna‛i.
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