Tuesday, January 11, 2000

Appeal disrupts Kauai
power plant plans

By Anthony Sommer


LIHUE -- Like a boulder tossed in a very small pond, Citizens for Clean Air's appeal asking the Kauai Circuit Court to throw out county permits for a new Kauai Electric power plant is causing ripples.

The appeal:

Bullet Contends the Kauai County Planning Commission has knowingly violated state law, county ordinances and its own rules on every special use permit it has issued for more than two decades, according to Citizens For Clean Air.

Bullet Threatens a one- to two-year delay in construction of the 26.4-kilowatt power plant, well beyond mid-2002 when Kauai Electric says the island will need more power than it can generate without new equipment. The power company is forecasting brownouts and rolling blackouts if the plant isn't built on time.

Bullet Threatens permits for three major new resorts on Kauai that have been applied for but not yet considered by the Planning Commission: refurbishing of the 252-room Coco Palms Resort in Kapaa, reconstruction of the 234-room Waiohai Resort in Poipu and construction of Gay & Robinson's planned 250-unit Kapalawi Resort near Waimea.

The Coco Palms and the Waiohai have been closed since Hurricane Iniki in 1992. Their reopenings could be set back months or years if a court rules their permits, like Kauai Electric's, were the result of an illegal county process.

Citizens For Clean Air -- Pat Cockett, Gabriella Taylor and Adeline Sasaki, all of whom live near the proposed plant site outside Hanamaulu -- are asking the court to order the Planning Commission to start the process all over again because the commissioners did it illegally when they granted the permits Sept. 9.

On Kauai, the public hearing comes before the planning director makes recommendations, rather than after the recommendations as required by law.

And the planning director's recommendations almost always are kept secret until the day of the Planning Commission vote. The Planning Department says that's because the recommendations often are being written and revised right up to the meeting time.

Citizens for Clean Air contends in its appeal that the process does not allow opponents to prepare testimony on the director's recommendation.

Planning Director Dee Crowell and county attorney Hartwell Blake did not return calls seeking comments on the dispute.

The issue of whether the Planning Department has been violating the law first was raised at a Planning Commission meeting by Carol Bain, president of the Kauai League of Women Voters.

Blake told Bain that not only had the county been ignoring the law in the Kauai Electric case, it had been doing so in every permit case for at least the past two decades.

The reason, he said, is because it is, in their view, a "bad" law. The Kauai Planning Department believes the public hearing should come before the staff recommendations so the planning director can take public opinion into account in his report to the commission, Blake said.

On Nov. 16, Crowell recommended the commission amend its rules to reflect the prevailing practice rather than the longtime legal requirement. A public hearing on the proposed rule change is scheduled for Thursday with the Planning Commission.

E-mail to City Desk

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