Saturday, November 10, 2001

HECO offers to seek
middle ground on
Waahila Ridge

The groups contesting the
transmission lines say
they'll consider it

By Diana Leone

After seven days of testimony for and against Hawaiian Electric Co.'s request for bigger electric lines on Waahila Ridge, the utility's attorney surprised its opponents yesterday by proposing they all get together to seek a "middle ground."

"What? They want talk now?" Life of the Land's Kat Brady exclaimed in a whisper to the Outdoor Circle's Mary Steiner after the proposal was made.

Both said later that HECO had refused to meet with their organizations and Malama O Manoa in the past, prompting the three community groups to seek the contested-case hearing before the state Board of Land & Natural Resources that concluded yesterday before a hearing officer.

More than 40 witnesses have testified since Nov. 1 -- about half from the electric company and half from its opponents.

HECO lead attorney Ben Kudo asked hearing officer E. John McConnell "to serve as a settlement master, to facilitate finding what middle ground ... if the parties are willing to work with us to find a solution."

The groups said informally that they think HECO's offer signifies that they presented good evidence that the larger lines are not needed. The answer from the groups was that they would consider the offer.

In the meantime, McConnell will receive written final arguments from the four parties and then make a recommendation to the Land Board by Jan. 31. The board has final say over whether HECO may increase the size of electric lines over the ridge between Manoa and Palolo valleys because they pass through conservation land.

"These proceedings have shown the need is not there -- (electric) usage has dropped," said Mary Cooke, founding president of Malama O Manoa. "HECO has 99.98 percent reliability -- they're doing a great job without the line. This is an idea of 15-20 years ago that they won't give up. It's outdated. And it would destroy a beautiful green corridor, the most prominent corridor in urban Honolulu."

Spokesman Charles Freedman said after the hearing that HECO has spent much more than $10 million on the project, but said part of the cost has been addressing community opposition to the plans. He said that cost should be compared to the "cost to businesses, the community and residents if we don't build this line and there's a catastrophic electric failure."

Another surprise yesterday was HECO's suggestion it might be willing to move proposed power lines off Waahila Ridge, downhill toward St. Louis Heights, to make them less visible from Manoa Valley. That possibility was not greeted warmly by the community groups either, who questioned whether the utility was trying to slip in what should be a whole new proposal under the guise of an alternative.

"I think this is a terrible idea," said Cooke. "We'd like this to set a precedent that these high-voltage transmission lines should not continue to be put overhead. All high-voltage lines in the future should go underground, especially in an urban core, seen by millions of people."

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