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MECO Plans Spark Controversy

Transmission lines, power poles and tree planting plans explored at South Maui meeting. “… we are doomed to 70-foot power poles going down Pi‘ilani Highway.”

August 25, 2011
Tom Blackburn-Rodriguez

After failing to show at a recent Kīhei public meeting of the Maui County Charter Commission, the community arrived in full force to hear reports on the status of new Maui Electric Company (MECO) proposal for transmission lines from Mä‘alaea to Wailea and two new power stations, all to be located along Pi‘ilani Highway.

Also on the agenda and leading off the meeting was a review of the newly proposed Maui Planting Plan offered by its primary author, Certified Arborist Ernie Rezents. Rezents outlined the upcoming third edition of the plan which is expected to be published late this year or early next year.

The new plan will exclude the protection of invasive species; include a proposal that parking lots have large, crown shade trees; and include a calculation of the problems caused by trees that are lost, such as reduced wind abatement, cooling shade, Ozone protection and the interception of storm water.

Article Photos

Kīhei Community Association President Jon Miller (left) and Maui Electric Company (MECO) Principal Engineer Garth Turley exchange views about MECO’s plan to service the power needs of South Maui via 70-foot power poles and transmission lines along Pi‘ilani Highway. Munekiyo & Hiraga Senior Associate Cheryl K. Okuna and Ernie Rezents of the Maui Outdoor Circle also participated in the panel discussion.

According to Rezents, shade trees in retail parking lots are valued not just for their esthetic appeal. “Research shows that customers come from further, stay longer and spend more where trees shade the parking lot,” he said.

Next at bat and facing a skeptical crowd was Cheryl Okuna, senior associate at Munekiyo & Hiraga, a planning consultancy and project management firm. She presented a thorough and balanced explanation of the MECO plan for the proposed transmission lines along Pi‘ilani Highway and two new substations in Kīhei.

One substation is planned south of Ohukai Road; the other is to be located across from Kamali‘i Elementary School. The estimated cost for the two substations is $15.7 million with completion set for December 2015.

Seventy-foot high steel poles will carry the transmission lines from the existing MECO power plant in Mä‘alaea along Pi‘ilani Highway.

The cost of the overhead lines is estimated at $21 million. If the lines were placed underground, the cost could rise to as much as $80 million. MECO will need a Special Management Area Permit for the project and will voluntarily procure an Environmental Impact Statement, although it is not legally required for the project.

Existing law mandates that the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) choose the lowest-cost alternative for proposed power projects of this nature. KCA meeting attendees were very vocal about the limited choices they were presented.

Following the presentation by Okuna, KCA President Jon Miller convened a panel to discuss the Maui Planting Plan and MECO’s transmission pole and line placement plan.

Joining the panel at the invitation of Miller was MECO Principal Engineer Garth Turley, a five-month Maui resident, who sought to answer questions about the option MECO has offered the community.

Miller, who believes MECO’s poles and lines will degrade the beauty of the island and obstruct the view plane from South Maui to Upcountry and Haleakalä, suggested that other less intrusive routes were available to MECO.

“In taking that route [Pi‘ilani Highway], you are getting pigeonholed into underground or overhead and $20 million overhead or $80 million underground,” Miller said to Turley. “In choosing that route, we are doomed to 70-foot power poles going down Pi‘ilani Highway.”

Turley focused on the increasing demand for power in South Maui. “In this area, we are already at the point that if we lose a substation, we would have a difficult time to bring on more load, or in other words, we could have rolling brown outs. We are at the point now where we are having a bad time, so if any more development comes on, you will need more power.”

In response to an audience member who said that tourists did not come to Maui to see power poles, Turley responded, “Tourists have power lines in their backyards, too.”

Miller promised that the KCA would talk to elected representatives and advocate for an underground plan. County Councilmember Don Couch announced he will ask the PUC to hold a community meeting in Kīhei to hear what residents think before making a decision with such significant potential impact.

 
 
 

 

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