Petricci Testifies Against Council Plan To Resolve Geothermal Drilling Dispute
HILO – Puna Pono Alliance member Robert Petricci testified before the Hawaii County Council Committee on Agriculture, Water and Energy Sustainability Committee on Tuesday.
Resolution 89-15, introduced by Councilwoman Margaret Wille, tried to mediate the geothermal night drilling controversy playing out in Pohoiki right now. The Hawaii County Council banned night time drilling in 2012, but Puna Geothermal Venture believes they are exempt. The County Planning Department apparently agrees with PGV. After failing to pass a resolution compelling PGV to follow the 2012 law, Wille drew up a resolution offering solutions and dissuading litigation.
The resolution included a provision that Puna Geothermal Venture will agree not to drill on weekends so that the community would have some scheduled breaks from the constant noise. It also asked Puna Pono Alliance to drop its lawsuit on the matter. When it became apparent that neither Puna Pono Alliance or Puna Geothermal Venture would support the resolution, Wille withdrew the proposal.
Petricci shared with Big Island Video News his full, written testimony in opposition to the resolution.
Thank you Margaret for creating the opportunity to be heard and for us to educate this council through introduction of your resolution today. My name is Robert Petricci, I am representing PPA in opposition to the resolution asking us to drop our lawsuit against PGV and the County for reasons I hope to explain.
Since PPA and the county are opposing parties in litigation on the issue can we get a clarification on what the rules for a request like this outside of the court and in this venue are first?
History and the record show intentional or not, the combined actions by the county of Hawaii have benefited geothermal development at the expense of the lower Puna community for over 3 decades
None of this is new although some of the players have changed, in 1981 I believed like most people that geothermal was a good thing, it really does sound good, I understand that. Geothermal first became a problem for me personally in the summer of 1981 when the HGP-A experimental geothermal plant began to operate about a half mile upwind of my home.
From the day HGP-A went online there were serious problems, I have newspaper stories of people complaining of widespread health problems as far back as well testing in 1977. What I am saying is all well documented, and relevant to show the county has a responsibility for what has happened and it is time to take us seriously.
For all intents and purposes during the permitting process the community concerns and well being were not taken seriously, and instead dismissed or ignored by the county. The result of that intentional or not is our families health, safety, and quality of life has been held secondary to promoting geothermal development, and people have been hurt because of that.
Rodney Nakano, Duane Kanuha, Steve Yamashiro were just a few people in the county government I worked with on these same issues 2 and even 3 decades ago. Planning director Kanuha promised me and the community then the county permit (GRP) would protect us. He promised to resolve the same issues we see today that are not resolved, when he issued the GRP over our objections.
Many of the problems we see today have their roots in the GRP, if you want to really address this you will need to reopen the GRP and fix it there.
During the lengthy PGV permitting process the community wanted safeguards “before” the permit was issued, but the county said trust us, we will protect you.
The county gave the community it’s word, but as we see today, that turned out to be nothing but empty promises. The reality is and was the county bent over backward at our expense to accommodate the developer. We were made a sacrificial community for the state and counties grand 500 megawatt geothermal plan. To counter the loud community opposition against the project in Puna, regulators and politicians at the time went as far as to labeled us Punatics and other even more derogatory stereo types. Some of the people in the decision making positions led that PR effort.
DOH director Jack Lewin, and Deputy Director Bruce Anderson were both publicly very vocal in criticism of the Puna community. When the DOH did a geothermal health study in response to a huge outcry from the community, they excluded anyone who said they were sick because of geothermal (hundreds of the closest people). claiming in the press that the people in Puna around the plant were all lying. Going as far as to claim the people complaining of geo related illness had all had time to bone up on the symptoms to fake the illnesses.
Bruce Anderson told the press we were not sick, he claimed we were all rabidly anti geothermal. Remember at that time this was the deputy director of the state DOH, who went on to become director after Lewin left. Dr Anderson refused to respond to our community concerns or to do anything in response to continuing request for help for the next decade or more. If Anderson was right, today we have a whole new group of liars and scammers because most of the people he was talking about then are long gone, the people here today like Tom Travis, Steve and Kieba, Sofia, Dave Kisor, Eric or Paul and Suzann are all new. So we ask Dr Anderson, is it a virus that makes certain people rabidly anti geothermal or are we born that way?
The community has successfully sued DOH for not following the law once already. Just as the county will not enforce the law now the DOH refused to follow the law requiring they promulgate rules for allowable H2S emissions into the community.
In the DOH response to the lawsuit, DOH claimed PGV could make up their own standard, like the county saying now PGV is exempt. These are things that you need to really hear. We have been labeled as trouble makers, lyres, and crazy, for 34 years or more so developers could continue to release huge amounts of very toxic gasses into our community. Some of that still gos on today.
One small snap shot at how bad our families have been treated for the last 34 years is we had a school bus stop across the street and downwind from a geothermal smoke stack that for eight years filled the school bus with toxic geothermal fumes 5 days a week, until the plant was closed by emergency proclamation by then gov Waihee after a labor day weekend leak that drove people from their homes all around the plant.
I am telling you this because you need to understand that we have been made a sacrificial community by the county and state to benefit geothermal development for 34 years and it is time for that to end today. No one on this council can say you are not aware of what is happening, there is a very clear record, but you have to look at it to really understand. I think that is part of your job at this point yet not one of you has ever ask me or Tom or Harry Kim to come in and show you the documented record we have.
Read the recent mayor’s health study group report, or the ancient state investigation by Godard and Godard and really try to comprehend it, then realize it is as bad or worse now. HELCO and Ormat industries are actually negotiating to expand geothermal development without first even seriously addressing what we are living with already.
If not the county and state’s fault, then who’s fault is this? (PGV alone?). Today there is still no source point monitoring, or any workable system to detect the real levels of H2S throughout the community. What they have is insulting to us be called a monitoring system at all, that is for your benefit so you will believe there is monitoring, it is not true. If you doubt that ask an expert like Chris Biltof.
In fact regulation and regulators of PGV have proved to be so bad at protecting or responding to the community as to be for all intents and purposes of our community non existent, and there is still no workable emergency response or notification plan after decades of you, the county, being told you must have one. Tropical Storm Issell clearly showed there is no workable notification or emergency response plan to this day, and people in our community were hurt again because of that. Because the county has turned a deaf ear to a clearly vocal community request for help.
I and many others testified about these very issues at the county permitting hearings for PGV. Then planning director as now Duane Kanuha, told us we would be protected and our concerns were warrant-less.
It is past time for smoke and mirrors and passing the buck. We are here today asking the many long forgotten promises made to this community by the county should be honored now, by this administration and this council.
Our families and our community has been sacrificed by this county for the good of geothermal long enough. If PGV can not operate their power plant after more than 20 years without hurting the surrounding community or needing exemptions from laws that apply to everyone else, it may be time for them to go. At any rate we believe it is time for the county to take it’s responsibility to provide all the people of the county including lower Puna with equal protections under the laws and safe homes when they permit heavy, dangerous industries like geothermal in the middle of pre existing residential communities with no buffer zones or set backs seriously.
Please understand the problems with drilling here are not new or the exception. These impacts we are talking about and worse have been happening for three decades. The county can not say they do not know that. We have been telling you, and suing government regulators and geothermal developers for 34 years and this is where we are at?
Our community worked hard with the council at the time and passed a law, a good one that recognizes it is unreasonable for PGV or any developer to expect to be allowed to keep families awake all night for extended periods. PPA believes the County should be enforcing the law as written, not asking us to drop the suit.
If you think I am exaggerating about the neglect our community gets from the county when it comes to geothermal. explain to this community why after Tropical Storm Issell, there was state and county assistance for every kind of impact with one notable exception. There was no nurse, doctor, or anyone for the geothermal victims trapped and gassed in their homes during the storm.
Think about this please, there are today over 130 people around PGV who say they were hurt by geothermal gas the night of August 7th 2014, how many people were hurt by falling trees, or other things during the storm? 130 is a lot of people to be totally and intentionally ignored by this county when we were asking for help. We ask the DOH to send someone and they refused.
I ask the mayor myself for help for those seeking medical assistance when he came out to talk to people in Pahoa, he told me straight out no way. He told me to do it our self. So we did, with no resources to speak of, out of the impacted communities pockets and with volunteers we tried to help them, and still are. Shame on this county administration and the state DOH, how dare you treat people like that, this is your doing. You have not lived up to the promise or your obligation to protect this community.
Further the resolution could be hijacked by some in any attempt to relieve the county from liability on the backs of the impacted community yet again. We believe the County Planning Director exceeded her authority and told PGV in writing they were exempt from the night time drilling ban law. It was not her job or within her authority as planning director to interpret county law or to grant PGV’s wish to be exempt. The law is clear and it does not say anywhere PGV is exempt. I am sorry the planning director made such a serious mistake but that can not now be resolved (again) at the expense of the impacted community who passed the law.
We enacted the night time drilling ban specifically because of PGV past drilling practices, if intent is your issue that was it. Enforce the law and we will drop the lawsuit. This kind of thing has been the norm for over thirty years. I have watched this same kind of stuff from the county on this issue for more than half my life, this needs to change now, it is not ok anymore, no one can say they are not aware of the problems. Read the health study group report, please.
We believe the county should enforce the law as written, the county has refused. Unless the county wants to change it’s position the proper place to settle this now is in the courts.
In closing please consider that PGV, a corporation, has received extraordinary help and leniency from county government. When is the government going to really fix this? It is time to help the communities that are negatively affected by this counties poor excuse for a planning and permitting process that created the problems we have now at PGV. We have more than done our part, it is time for you to do yours. Hawaii’s people come first, corporation needs should be second, to the quality of life of our communities period.
I want to thank Margaret again for doing this, I believe she meant well. I hope you all heard us here today, we want to work with you.
Representing Puna Pono Alliance