PUNA, Hawaii – A group opposed to the expansion of the geothermal industry in Puna has filed suit against the state’s only geothermal power plant in an attempt to stop the company from drilling at night, contrary to Hawaii County law.
Hilo attorney Gary Zamber filed a suit for declaratory and injunctive relief on behalf of non-profit association Puna Pono Alliance against the Pohoiki-based Puna Geothermal Venture. The lawsuit is “based on PGVs declared intent to violate the County night drilling ban,” PPA president Robert Petricci said. “PPA wants to be in a position to protect the community’s interest in the night drilling ban if needed.”
In order to tap into the geothermal resource, the plant must drill production wells. Residents who live within a mile of the plant already have a long list of complaints, but they say it is the drilling process that is the most disruptive. The last time Puna Geothermal Venture drilled a well was in 2012. The noise associated with the activity generated so many complaints, the Hawaii County Concil took action. A new law was passed and signed into law as Ordinance 12-151, restricting drilling operation hours to 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. only. No nighttime drilling, to allow nearby residents a chance to rest.
Puna Geothermal Venture now says the company will once again commence drilling in February. They say that could include nighttime drilling. Community members were outraged over the refusal to adhere to Ordinance 12-151.
Last week, an attempt to try to stop the around-the-clock drilling failed to gain any traction at the Hawaii County Council. One resolution asked county lawyers to take PGV to court to enforce Ordinance 12-151. Councilmembers debated the move, but eventually voted down the idea, expressing a desire to try some sort of mediation instead.
Puna Geothermal Venture has evidently been in close contact with the planning department concerning mandatory measures to mitigate the noise. PGV says the planning department told the company that it is exempt from the nighttime drilling ban.
Petricci noted that the County appears to be involved in some maneuvering on the issue, and PPA “will wait to see if it becomes necessary before prosecuting the suit.”
Here is a portion of the Puna Pono Alliance complaint:
6. Hawai`i County Code § 14-114 provides:
Geothermal resources exploration drilling and geothermal production drilling operations being conducted one mile or less from a residence, shall be restricted to the operating hours of 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
7. PGV obtained a drilling permit dated December 16, 2014, from the State of Hawai`i Department of Land and Natural Resources for a new well identified as KS-16.
8. PGV has publicly announced plans to drill KS-16 and also announced their opinion that Hawai`i County Code § 14-114 does not apply to PGV and that work on KS-16 will include drilling at night.
9. PGV’s December 16, 2014, drilling permit for KS-16 says, in relevant part:
The permittee shall observe and comply with all valid requirements of County, State and Federal authorities and regulations to the land and permittee’s operations including but not limited to, all water and air pollution control laws and those relating to the environment; …
10. Plaintiff’s members have publicly and actively challenged PGV’s stated intent to violate Code § 14-114 by drilling KS-16 at night.
11. Plaintiff’s members residing near PGV’s location and those with interests in real property there would suffer damage, disruption, injury and even possible loss of life if PGV fails to obey applicable laws.
12. Pursuant to Hawai`i Revised Statutes Chapter 632, an actual controversy involving interests of the parties has arisen so that relief by declaratory judgment may be appropriately granted to determine and resolve the legal relations, status, rights, or privileges of the parties.
13. Plaintiff is entitled to declaratory and injunctive relief requiring that PGV obey applicable laws