Circuit Court Judge Removes Hu Honua from Lawsuit; County’s Windward Planning Commission approves SMA permit amendment

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HILO, HAWAII—Hawaii Third Circuit Court Judge Greg K. Nakamura has removed Hu Honua Bioenergy LLC as a defendant in the lawsuit filed by certain area residents against Continental Pacific, LLC and Hank Correa Realty.

The judge ruled that Hu Honua had produced sufficient evidence to show that no other defendant had legal claim to bring an injunction against Hu Honua to block using the Pepe‘ekeo site as a power plant.


The judge’s ruling was one of two milestones for Hu Honua. The County’s Windward Planning Commission ruled 4-0 last Wednesday to grant an amendment to the plant’s Special Management Area permit that allows it to convert the old coal plant to more sustainable biomass.

Attorney Gary Grimmer, who represented Hu Honua in the Dow vs Continental case, said that Hu Honua was pleased with Judge Nakamura’s ruling because Hu Honua is not affiliated with Continental Pacific and had nothing to do with the plaintiffs’ purchase of their Pepe‘ekeo land.

“The ruling is a step toward ultimately opening the biomass plant and helping reduce the Big Island’s dependence on fossil fuel to generate electricity,” Grimmer said.

Hu Honua plans a 24-megawatt, biomass-fueled power facility at the old sugar mill power station. The operation will provide baseload electric power, that is, a stable source of generation as opposed to other, more fluctuating alternate sources. It can provide about 10 percent of the island’s electrical needs.

The judge’s order granting Hu Honua summary judgment was filed last week.

The suit was originally filed on May 5, 2010. Since then a series of hearings were held and legal submissions were made. As a result, Judge Nakamura dismissed the claims of two of the plaintiffs, Raquel Dow and Roberta St. Ambrogio. There are two plaintiffs’ claims still pending.

The plaintiffs claimed that they bought the land near the Pepe‘ekeo power plant in reliance on promises or misrepresentations by Continental and Correa that the power plant would close and not reopen. Plaintiffs’ seek damages from Continental and Correa and, until Nakamura ruled to remove Hu Honua, sought an injunction against Hu Honua from reopening the power plant as a biomass fueled facility. Judge Nakamura ruled that Dow and St. Ambrogio had no evidence of the alleged promises or misrepresentations.

The SMA permit requires a set of provisions. Hu Honua’s president, Rick McQuain assured the Commission all of them will be met fully. The Commission’s decision comes after more than a year of hearings and submissions including substantial testimony in support from community, laborers, businesses and elected officials.

Among the provisions are that the refurbishment of the plant from the existing coal operation to a biomass facility be completed within five years; compliance with all federal, state and county regulations on air, water quality and discharge, and noise; sound levels at the plant boundary are to be kept within residential levels of 55 decibels; biomass truck traffic to and from the plant should be restricted to 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and no “jake brakes” be used on Sugar Mill Road.

There are also provisions for construction dust, runoff, drainage, solid waste management and proper handling of archeological or historical artifacts if found.

Hu Honua Bioenergy LLC is converting the former Hilo Coast Power Company plant at Pepe‘ekeo into a modern biomass energy facility. After sugar operations ceased, the facility operated for some years as a coal-fired power plant. Hu Honua will use only biomass. The goal is for the facility to be operational by late 2012. The 24-megawatt (MW) facility will produce a net of a little more than 21 MW of power, about 10 percent of the island’s electrical needs and about enough for 14,000 homes.

The facility expects to employ about 100 construction workers for up to a year for plant refurbishment and then 30 fulltime workers for site operations.

Update Submitted by Barbara Hastings, Hastings and Pleadwell