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Endangered species topic of wind farm hearing

PUKALANI – The state Department of Land and Natural Resources hosted a lightly attended public hearing Tuesday night to discuss a draft habitat conservation plan for the proposed $140 million, 21-megawatt Auwahi wind farm on Ulupalakua Ranch.

Sandee Hufana, the department’s habitat preservation plan coordinator, went through the requirements on developer Sempra Generation during the meeting at the Mayor Hannibal Tavares Community Center. There was no public testimony.

The draft aims to mitigate “takes” of four identified endangered species. Those are the nene, the hoary bat, Blackburn’s sphinx moth and the petrel, Hufana said.

The state established protective provisions include:

* For the nene geese, that Sempra donate $25,000 to state Division of Forestry and Wildlife to combat predators and protect the birds’ eggs and goslings in Haleakala National Park.

* For the Hawaiian hoary bats, that Sempra establish suitable roosting and other grounds, encircle 156 acres around the wind farm with fences and destroy invasive weeds.

* For the Blackburn’s sphinx moths, that Sempra provide an unidentified amount of funding for the Leeward Haleakala Watershed Restoration Partnership to restore 6 acres of dryland forest.

“It’s a good plan,” said project manager Alicia Oller of Tetra Tech, one of Sempra’s consultants. “We’re just looking forward to finalizing and moving forward.”

The ranch’s owners, members of the Erdman family, have said that the wind farm and a geothermal project are attempts to keep the land undeveloped and cattle ranch in operation forever.

The conservation plan sets guidelines for “takes” for everything but the small moth. Only five total nene could be taken over 75 years. A “take” refers to the injury, killing or harassment of the endangered species, which could be threatened by the wind turbine blades, land clearing and construction off the deserted area off Piilani Highway near Kaupo.

Hufana said a valuable aspect of the plan involves further study of the species’ movements.

The Board of Land and Natural Resources will render a final decision on the conservation plan.

Written comments may be submitted until Sept. 27 to the state Division of Forestry and Wildlife or by sending email to Sandee.K.Hufana@hawaii.gov. The division’s address is 1151 Punchbowl St., Room 325, Honolulu 96813.

Sempra Generation Commercial Development Director Mitch Dmohowski said project developers still hope to begin work in March.