Kauai County

Mayor seeks voter referendum
to let county buy Kauai Electric

By Anthony Sommer

LIHUE >> In another move in the courtship of Kauai Electric, Mayor Maryanne Kusaka asked the County Council yesterday to place a referendum on the September ballot creating a Kauai Power Authority.

If approved by the voters, the Kauai Power Authority would give the county a body to buy and run Kauai Electric if the county purchases the utility from Citizens Communications of Stamford, Conn.

Or the power authority could acquire it through condemnation, which appears more likely to most observers. In the three years Kauai Electric has been on the market, Citizens has shown no inclination toward selling it to the county.

Kauai Electric already has a sale to the Kauai Island Utility Co-op, a group of island businessmen, pending approval by the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission.

The PUC earlier rejected a similar deal with a $270 million price tag. The co-op and Citizens filed a new $215 million proposal earlier this year.

As she has done repeatedly over the past three years, Kusaka stopped short of saying the county wants ownership of the utility.

But she has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars -- her office could not say exactly how much -- on fees for attorneys and consultants to oppose the co-op takeover. The county was an intervenor in the first PUC case and is an intervenor in the current case. In both, the county has recommended against PUC approval of the purchase.

Whether the County Council would be willing to place the power authority measure on the ballot for Kusaka remains a question mark. The Council in the past has been reluctant to join Kusaka in outright opposition to the co-op.

But the Council and the mayor's staff have engaged in a series of closed-door "strategy sessions" with the attorney hired by Kusaka in the past few weeks. The meetings were conducted over the objections of members of the news media and public who argued they are violations of the state's open meetings law.

The proposed power authority would consist of four elected members with staggered four-year terms, a member appointed by the mayor, a member appointed by the County Council and the executive director of the utility.

To finance the purchase of Kauai Electric, the power authority would have the power to issue bonds to be repaid by the electric company's customers or it could ask the County Council to issue general-obligation bonds to be paid out of the county general fund.

Kauai County

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