Richard Ha writes:
The community attended the County Council meeting in force yesterday, many people wearing these buttons:
The County Council voted NOT to override Mayor Billy Kenoi's veto of the geothermal bills 256 & 257. This is the outcome we were hoping for.
The meeting started at 8 a.m. and about 85 people - an amazing number - testified. The meeting went all day and into the evening, and did not adjourn until 8 p.m.
There has been a real change in the dynamics of the geothermal discussion. The people who came from Leilani Estates were so passionate and determined. And they were so rational, and easily understood, and they really impressed me. They changed the tone of the conversation and struck a chord for rational discussion.
They are solid people who work everyday and have families to take care of. They were not involved until they learned this hearing was taking place and they didn't know a thing about it. When they realized what was happening, it didn't take any time at all for them to get organized. You could see they were determined to take their community back. It was just great.
And for the first time, Puna Geothermal employees jumped up and spoke up from their point of view, saying things like, "I wouldn't be working for a company that wasn't doing the right thing," and "I've worked here for 23 years, and my babies are fine and healthy," and "We've never known anyone at the plant that ever got hurt."
Others testified, too, people who were not affiliated with either the Leilani Estates group or the Puna Geothermal group. I'd not heard this group join the conversation before. In general, this was a larger geothermal conversation than usual, with a more representative group of Puna folks expressing themselves.
Petra Wiesenbauer, of Leilani Estates, was one of the people involved in getting out the word to the Leilani Estates community (as were Jan Kama and Loren Avedon). Petra attended yesterday's County Council meeting, and I asked for her take on it:
"We would like to thank everyone for their support and input. Together we were strong. Thank you also to Fred Blas, Don Ikeda, J Yoshimoto and Fresh Onishi, who voted against the override.
"I had expected a circus, but it was civil. I know a lot of the Pahoa folks and the anti-geothermal people. For the most part, we could look each other in the eye. I had several people that I talked to and we agreed that it was okay to have different opinions, and the main thing is that we respect each other as people.
"I am very relieved that we persevered, but I also feel like we need to do some mending in the community. This is where I don’t have this triumphant feeling. The rift from this in the community is quite big and will take some time to mend. There will be big resentments, and this polarization could have been totally avoided, had the council done a better job in drafting/amending these bills. We could have all worked together on this – maybe I am too optimistic, as there are also some real radicals that won’t be reasoned with.
"I feel that most people on our side brought professionalism, common sense and also an urge to put the facts out. Although I am sure the 'opposition' would say the same about their position. Overall, I feel that there is work to be done, now that the immediate threat has been removed.