Friday, November 2, 2001

Hearing officer John McConnell heard testimony yesterday
on Waahila electric lines. Beside him is a shot of the area.

HECO, groups clash at
Waahila Ridge hearing

The hearing officer will advise
the Land Board on HECO's
proposed electric lines

By Diana Leone

Hawaiian Electric Co.'s lead attorney attacked the Malama O Manoa community group for its objection to bigger electric lines over Waahila Ridge in his opening statement yesterday at a contested case hearing on the matter.

"'Malama' means to protect, but what happened to 'share'?" Ben Kudo asked.

Some people are protecting their "dream home in Manoa" without thinking of the good the electric lines would do the island as a whole, he said.

"Who wants an unsightly telecommunications tower near them, or a prison, or even a transmission line?" Kudo said. He called on hearing officer John McConnell to "examine objectively, despite public opinion and controversy."

Malama O Manoa's lead attorney, Corey Park, spoke
against Waahila Ridge electric lines yesterday while
HECO's attorney, Ben Kudo, at bottom, looked on.

"Land-use decisions are not based on popularity," Kudo said.

But Malama O Manoa's lead attorney, Corey Park, called Kudo's opening statement "an attempt to trivialize" the legitimate concerns of residents "who live in the shadow of Waahila Ridge and will, if HECO has its way, live in the shadow of these (electrical) towers."

Malama O Manoa is one of three community groups that forced the quasi-judicial hearing that began yesterday and is expected to last until at least Nov. 9. The others are the Outdoor Circle and Life of the Land.

McConnell, a retired judge, will then make a recommendation to the Board of Land and Natural Resources. The board has final say on whether HECO can put 138-kilovolt electric lines over the ridge between Manoa and Palolo valleys, because the lines would pass through conservation lands it manages.

HECO's proposed change will mean electric poles more than twice as tall as the existing ones, with significantly larger bases, Park said. He said HECO has the burden of showing that the public will benefit from the larger lines, that they would be a proper use of conservation land and that there are "no practical alternatives."

Park said the alternative of undergrounding utility lines through the Palolo Valley would cost only 28 percent more than the Waahila Ridge option, a difference that could be absorbed without increasing utility customer bills.

The "sweeping scenic vistas, quiet forest, distinctive aesthetic, contemplative and recreational values" of Waahila Ridge have not been well-cared for by HECO in its 30 years of having a utility right-of-way on the ridge, said the Outdoor Circle's attorney Guy Archer.

Life of the Land questioned whether another transmission line is the appropriate way to reach the "energy security" HECO seeks. While the state constitution, plans and laws all call for Hawaii to become more energy self-sufficient, HECO's planning is "based in the past," said Henry Curtis, the group's vice president for consumer affairs and its non-lawyer representative in the proceeding.

HECO's Kudo dismissed Life of the Land's promotion of alternative energy sources as a better solution to meeting Oahu's power needs as "impractical, unreliable and not cost-effective."

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