Council Chair Yagong questions Civil Defense head Fuata

Administration changes tune, bill 257 veto override fails

HILO, Hawaii: Two high profile bills dealing with geothermal energy were on Wednesday’s County Council agenda. Both were vetoed by Mayor Billy Kenoi, and the council hoped to overturn the vetoes with a super majority vote.

99 people showed up to testify on the override attempts, and shared passionate opinions from both sides of the issue.

After hours and hours of testimony, the first veto override was taken up. Bill 257: a measure that, if passed as originally intended, would have provided or clarified the county’s evacuation plans in case of a geothermal emergency by August 1st.

At one point, the administration – and newly appointed Civil Defense Administrator Ben Fuauta – appeared supportive of the measure. They even told local papers that there would be a drill held over the summer to fine tune the plan. But then, the mayor and the Civil Defense administrator suddenly changed their minds. In his veto message, Mayor Billy Kenoi said there is already a good plan in place for such an event.

The Council Chair – and mayoral candidate – Dominic Yagong introduced the bill. Some councilmembers were perplexed at the mayors veto, and heavily questioned Fuata about the specifics of the emergency plan. Engaging the councilmembers in semantics, Fuata said he doesn’t think a literal plan is needed, but rather a set of protocols in dealing with the dynamics of geothermal disaster. Reading from a paper, Fuata provided a detailed set of procedures that would be applied in case of a geothermal emergency. But when it came to including the public in how the plan was formulated, Fuata appeared evasive. Supporters of Bill 257 booed.

Eventually, the vote came down. The results: 5 to 4, one vote short the 6 needed to override the mayor’s veto.

[Video by David Corrigan, Voice of Stephanie Salazar]