Vetoed bills up for override vote

The Hawaii County Council is taking on two vetoes on Wednesday.

The Hawaii County Council is taking on two vetoes on Wednesday.

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Mayor Billy Kenoi vetoed Bill 256 and Bill 257, which related to county geothermal funds, July 12. The former would make significant changes to the Geothermal Relocation and Community Benefits Program, including a provision to fund health impact studies from the Puna Geothermal Venture plant. The latter bill called for an emergency response and evacuation plan.

The council meets at 8 a.m. Wednesday in the council chambers in Hilo, with video teleconferencing available in Kona, Waimea and Pahoa. Council committees are scheduled to meet today in Hilo.

North Kona Councilman Angel Pilago introduced measures to reconsider Kenoi’s vetoed measures July 19, but any action on either measure was postponed. Council Chairman Dominic Yagong, who introduced the geothermal bills, said the reconsideration effort was an automatic part of the legislative process.

“Obviously the council felt positively about the bills,” Yagong said. “Otherwise it wouldn’t have passed.”

He noted hundreds of people testified on the measures during the several hearings leading up to the votes, and said he expected significant testimony again this week. He called Kenoi’s veto a political move, particularly with regards to the evacuation plan.

“When the mayor vetoed that bill, the people of Puna expressed outrage that the mayor backed off from his promise” to put together such a plan, Yagong said. “It’s sad that he did that.”

Kenoi’s veto message said the county already had emergency plans in place.

He wrote that he vetoed the changes to the relocation fund because the proposed changes could result in lower tax revenues, as well as create county liability issues, by leaving more homes vacant in the area surrounding the geothermal plant.

Yagong said he wrote the bill to “abide by the wishes of the people,” and said the relocation option has been available for Puna residents meeting certain conditions since 1989.

He said he was hoping the veto overrides would be successful.

The council has yet to override any of Kenoi’s vetoes, South Kona Councilwoman Brenda Ford said. She supported the measures and said the changes to the relocation fund will allow for important health studies.

“I believe these people (who have testified about illnesses stemming from geothermal production) are ill,” Ford said. “We don’t know why.”

The study should test for more than just hydrogen sulfide, should cover a larger area than just the subdivision closest to the plant and should look farther up the rift zone, to see if an environmental culprit can be located there as well, Ford said.

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“We need to do it as quickly as possible,” she said.

The County Council approved the evacuation plan bill by a 7-2 vote and the relocation and public safety bill by a 6-3 vote.