(BIVN) – A controversial proposal to draw water from an artesian source within the Mauna Kea aquifer sector and sell it as bottled water went before a Hawaiʻi County Council committee on Tuesday, indirectly.
The Council’s Planning Committee voted to advance Bill 16 with a favorable recommendation, which – if later passed by the full council – will keep the regulatory door open for Piʻilani Partners, LLC to build a water bottling facility on vacant land in Hilo.
Piʻilani Partners hopes to develop the potable water well and bottling facility along Manono Street between the Hilo Civic Auditorium and Wailoa River State Park. The proposal has not sat well with some in the community.
“We oppose taking public trust water from a deep, pristine aquifer, to send much of it off-island, spawning plastic waste that will persist for generations – all to enrich a few people,” testified Cory Harden, representing the Sierra Club’s Moku Loa Group.
The Special Management Area Use Permit for the project is currently before the Windward Planning Commission, which deferred taking action on the application until the Hawaiʻi Commission on Water Resource Management finishes a new rulemaking process. However, the Planning Commission did forward a favorable recommendation for a Piʻilani Partner request to extend the Limited Industrial zoning on the property.
The parcel is owned by Matsuno Enterprises Limited, and was originally reclassified from Resort-Hotel to Limitied Industrial under Ordinance 92-122 in order to allow the Suisan Company to develop a fish processing plant in conjunction with an auction site near the mouth of the Wailoa River. The fish processing project never materialized, which meant the conditions for the zone reclassification were not met.
Piʻilani Partners, which has an option to buy the land if it can obtain all the necessary permits for its water bottling facility, needs the Limited Industrial zoning to stay in place.
Several residents spoke against the project when the matter was before the Windward Planning Commission. A few also attended the Tuesday council committee meeting – either in Kona, where the hearing was held, or from Hilo via videoconference.
Resident Claudia Rohr took issue with the background report for claiming “it’s next to industrial zoning,” because Rohr said “the closest industrial zoning is five blocks away. We’re talking about spot zoning here.”
“We cannot get this one wrong, folks,” said Kona resident Shannon Rudolph. “Please, just hold off, wait to see what the Water Commission has to say before you decide on this issue. Please.”
Planning consultant Sidney Fuke, speaking on behalf of Piʻilani partners, wanted the council to look at the rezone request as a separate matter, apart from the pending permit before the planning commission. “They are separate issues,” Fuke said. “Sure, there are some overlap but – as I mentioned earlier – if the SMA permit goes down… Suisan still wants the opportunity to be able to have other uses” on the Limited Industrial parcel.
“In fact this bill is tied to that project,” said Kona councilwoman Karen Eoff, “because as I read through the bill, the conditions within it are directed towards that proposal.”
The council committee ultimately voted to give the bill a positive recommendation. Two councilmembers – Valerie Poindexter and Rebecca Villegas – voted no.