Would-be water bottlers appeal county’s denial of permit

  • Testifiers wear yellow shirts opposition of the Piilani Partners’ application for a Special Management Area Use Permit to develop a potable water well and bottling facility during a County of Hawaii Windward Planning Commission meeting at the Aupuni Center in Hilo earlier this year. (Photos by HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald)

  • Piilani Partners representative Tom Nance speaks in February about the potential drill site during a meeting at the Aupuni Center in Hilo.

HILO — A company that wants to open a water bottling plant near Wailoa State Recreation Area in Hilo is appealing the county’s denial of a permit for the project.

The agency appeal was filed June 21 in Hilo Circuit Court by Pamela W. Bunn and Madisson L. Heinze, attorneys for Piilani Partners LLC.

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The appellee is the Windward Planning Commission, which on May 7 denied by a 5-1 vote a special management area permit to allow Piilani Partners to drill a 1,000-foot well into the Maunakea Aquifer near the intersection of Piilani and Mililani Streets and build a bottling plant on the site.

The lawsuit seeks a court order vacating the permit denial and remanding the matter back to the commission “to enter an order granting” the SMA application.

It also seeks “other and further relief” the court deems appropriate, “including but not limited to an award of attorney’s fees and costs.” The filing alleges the commission’s denial is unlawful, beyond the commission’s statutory authority and jurisdiction and is “arbitrary, capricious and/or characterized by abuse of discretion … .”

Piilani’s plans to drill into the aquifer and construct the bottling plant on a 2.57-acre parcel of land zoned for light industrial use that Piilani leases and plans to buy from Matsuno Enterprises have proven controversial.

Public testimony during the past four meetings the plans were discussed was universally negative. During the May 7 commission meeting, more than 25 people testified against the project, with objections ranging from concerns about increased noise levels from the plant affecting neighbors, plastic waste, commercialization of public trust resources and Hawaiian sovereignty.

During a Feb. 8 meeting of the commission, Tom Nance, a groundwater hydrologist representing Piilani, testified the wells’ maximum water extraction rate — up to 200,000 gallons a day — would be but a fraction of the maximum sustainable yield of the aquifer, which he said would sustain hundreds of millions of gallons to be extracted per day.

Nance also said tapping into the Maunakea aquifer would cause only an infinitesimal change of the water flow of the aquifer into the ocean, causing no impact to ocean life.

Sidney Fuke, a private planning consultant hired by Piilani, said the company would be willing to reduce noise levels at the plant to a residential threshold.

The county Planning Department recommended on July 24, 2018, that Piilani’s request to develop a potable water well and bottling facility within the Special Management Area be approved by the commission. The department determined “the proposed development and related improvements will not have substantial adverse impacts on coastal resources … .”

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The court hasn’t scheduled a hearing on the appeal.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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