Water-bottling plant bid comes up dry

An attempt to resurrect a rejected proposal for a water-bottling plant in Hilo was quashed again Thursday by the Windward Planning Commission.

Last year, the commission denied an application from Piilani Partners LLC requesting a Special Management Area permit to drill a 1,000-foot well into the Maunakea aquifer at the intersection of Piilani and Mililani streets in Hilo.

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However, Piilani Partners appealed that verdict and, following a decision by a Circuit Court judge, returned to the commission on Thursday to once again request that its application be approved.

Deputy Corporation Counsel Malia Hall told the commission and those attending the meeting that, per the order of the judge, the commission must base its opposition to the application on materials included in the official record. This rule specifically precluded the commission from citing concerns about excessive plastic waste, which formed part of the basis of the commission’s original verdict.

Commissioner John Replogle, who was firm in his opposition to the plant during every previous meeting, moved initially to return an identical verdict to the commission’s previous one, denying the application based on the commission’s duty to protect the public interest.

“If we allow our water to be extracted like it’s oil or some other resource, that is not in the public trust’s best interest,” Replogle said. “Let’s ride this up the court and back down if necessary.”

No other commissioner seconded Replogle’s motion, however, and it died without substantial discussion. Following that, commissioner Joseph Clarkson made a diametrically opposing motion, proposing that the commission approve Piilani Partners’ application.

Clarkson argued that commercializing public water happens all the time, most commonly in managing plumbing and agriculture.

“If we deny based on this, then we are saying that it’s better to use public water to create sewage than drinking water,” Clarkson said.

However, Clarkson was joined by only two other commissioners, with the remaining three opposing the motion. With the vote a tie, that motion failed as well.

Replogle then returned to his previous motion, which fellow commissioner Dean Au suggested amending by removing the references to plastic waste that the Circuit Court had taken issue with.

But although the commission had been ordered to not use plastic waste as a reason to deny the motion, Replogle disagreed, saying the court should recognize that plastic waste is a worldwide issue that needs to be addressed.

The commission then voted 4-2 to resubmit an amended version of its negative verdict, with one intact reference to plastic waste, seemingly in defiance of the court.

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Hall advised the commission the court may return the verdict again for further litigation, or may order the commission to approve the application outright.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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