PEPEEKEO, Hawaii – The situation at the Hu Honua bioenergy plant planned for Pepeekeo is unclear, following rumors of mass layoffs and slow work progress.
Hu Honua is currently reconstructing the former sugar mill power plant at Pepeekeo into a modern biomass electricity generation station.
Elaine Munro, a vocal opponent of the project, first reported that a security guard at the main entrance of the gate told her more than 100 workers have been laid off, and that the guard also expected to be laid off soon.
Members of a neighborhood coalition against the project are appealing the Windward Planning Commission’s approval of Hu Honua’s special management area permit, which was granted after a contested case hearing was held. The group says recently there has been a slowdown of activity at the plant.
We checked in with the spokesperson for Hu Honua, and we were provided a statement from the company that appears to address the labor situation at the plant.
The company is saying that a labor jurisdiction decision involving dozens of workers is holding things up. The workers are from two craft unions – the United Association of Journeymen & Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry (Pipefitters) and the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Shipbuilders, Blacksmiths, Forgers & Helpers, AFL-CIO (IBB).
The general contractor for the reconstruction of the Hu Honua facility is Hawaiian Dredging Construction Company.
Hu Honua says the labor jurisdiction decision is the result of a process between the two unions and is being conducted with the Washington D.C.-based body called the Plan for the Settlement of Jurisdictional Disputes in the Construction Industry. The company says once a final determination is made, new workers may be assigned from a different union. The duration of this transition has yet to be determined.
Hu Honua has enjoyed strong union support as it has navigated various approvals and requirements, most recently at a public hearing before the Public Utilities Commission.
Hu Honua did say that its two dozen personnel are not affected by this decision, and they continue to work on oversight, planning, maintenance, and security at the site.
We spoke to Hawaii County officials in Research and Development yesterday, who said they dont know the details about what might be going on at the planned bioenergy facility.
Hu Honua has a signed power purchase agreement with Hawaii Electric Light Co. HELCO has submitted a request for PUC approval and the process has been underway for about 10 months.