UPDATE12:53 a.m. SundayDay one – The March on HELCO began on Saturday. Close to a hundred marchers began the three day journey to Hilo from Pahoa High School shortly after 10 a.m.

With “Save Pohoiki” signs and T-shirts, opponents of geothermal expansion hit Highway 130 (no parade through Pahoa town) headed for a stop in Orchidland, where many planned to camp for the night.

In the video (above) we speak to march organizer Steve Sparks. The music you hear is being played by the talented Happy Om.

On Sunday night, after the marchers reached Hilo, we caught up with them at their campsite on the Community of Christ land on Kino’ole and Puainako. Paul Kuykendall sat down to talk with us on camera, in an interview session under the light of the moon.

March on HELCO – Hilo campsite, Sunday night

PAHOA, Hawaii – Today, the March on HELCO begins.

The three day trek begins at 10 a.m. at Pahoa High School, and heads towards Hilo over the course of a three day journey. The goal is to arrive at the Hawaii Electric Light Company sometime between 10 a.m. and noon on Monday to deliver a petition to HELCO president Jay Ignacio, demanding the utility stop its contract for new geothermal development on the Island of Hawaii.

Organizers, primarily the Puna Pono Alliance under a campaign to “Save Pohoiki”, say they oppose HELCO’s plans “because the contract was excluded from the utility company’s recent public planning effort, and previous geothermal sites on this island have been notoriously unsafe, unclean, and poorly regulated.”

The history of geothermal in Puna has been contentious. Big Island Video News produced a short summary of the latest round of conflict to arise in the area that is already home to one 38 megawatt operation, Puna Geothermal Venture. Things starting heating up again last year when state leaders and other business interests began to ramp up plans to expand the use of the geothermal resource.

SPECIAL: A geothermal timeline – Puna fights development

Now, it has come to this: a mass demonstration. The march will cover a little over 20 miles, and is sure to draw attention along the busy Highway 130. Participants will camp along the way at designated sites. This is from the Puna Pono Alliance website:

Day One: 8.5 miles
The March on HELCO will start at 10:00 am on Saturday August 17th in front of Pahoa High School with a (possible) Parade thru Pahoa along Old Government Road toward Hilo. Then proceed along the Mauka side of Highway 130 to the Shower Dr./Pohaku Drive where there will be a campsite.
Day Two: 9.4 miles
On the second day of the March on HELCO, Sunday August 18th we will start walking from the campsite along the Mauka side of Highway 130 toward Hilo. We will be walking on the Mauka side of the Highway to Puainako Street where there will be a campsite.
Day 3: 2.2 miles
On the last day of the March on HELCO, Monday August 19th at 10:00 am we will walk from the campsite (gather at the lot across from the KTA parking lot on Puainako Street and Kilauea Avenue) down Highway 11 toward the HELCO Offices at 1200 Kilauea Avenue in Hilo (across from the Hilo Shopping Center). There are plans to have a sign waving demonstration already in progress so we will be walking to join them and gather in front of HELCO to present our petition asking HELCO to please stop the RFP.

Although most participants are against geothermal development in Puna in general terms, this march has a specific focus. A recent media release from Puna Pono Alliance explains:

HELCO’s CEO Jay Ignacio stated several weeks ago at a public meeting in Hilo, that HELCO would soon be deciding in late August or September which geothermal development company would receive a contract for geothermal power as a result of the recent Request For Proposal (RFP). HELCO did not consult with the community prior to the RFP about any proposed expansion of geothermal in Puna.On March 13 this year, the community was once again exposed to toxic emissions from PGV after HELCO went off line and caused PGV to vent H2S into the community. People in the area reported feeling ill shortly afterwards and fish in nearby ponds died. Since the PGV plant opened in 1989, there has been 70 separate toxic emissions into the community. A blowout in 1991 lasted for over 30 hours causing evacuations. After the 1991 thirty hour emergency, animals were found dead. There have also been 18 Civil Defense declared emergencies at PGV. Some people believe they are suffering ill heath because of all these emissions.

Puna Pono Alliance president Bob Petricci said, “We question the effectiveness of having a planning process when HELCO issues an RFP, and the contract to build another 50 mega watts of geothermal power is awarded before the planning process is complete. A robust planning process would ensure the community is consulted prior to any contract being awarded”.

According to the march organizer Steve Sparks, “There seems to be strong community support for the March. The concept has really inspired the community with many people likely to join along the way”.

We plan to cover segments of this march as it occurs here on Big Island Video News.