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Hearing officer recommends Hu Honua permit approval


The Hawaii County-appointed hearings officer in the Hu Honua Bioenergy contested case recommended the county’s Windward Planning Commission approve the proposed amendment to the facility’s Special Management Area.

The hearing officer, Robert Crudele, said the approval should be based on a set of provisions. Hu Honua management said those requirements will be fully met.

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 at 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.

In all there are 16 provisions. A copy of the full 31-page report is available on the Hu Honua Bioenergy website at

The Windward Planning Commission will consider the hearing officer’s recommendations and the permit amendment April 7 at its regular meeting.

“We are grateful that the hearing officer’s recommendations parallel those the County Planning Department had outlined. We have already agreed we can mitigate any concerns listed and meet all requirements,” said Rick McQuain, president of Hu Honua.

Hu Honua Bioenergy LLC is converting the former Hilo Coast Power Company plant at Pepeekeo 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 plant to be operational by late 2012. It will produce 24 megawatts of power, about 10 percent of the island’s electrical needs and about enough for 14,000 homes.

It expects to employ about 100 construction workers for up to a year for plant refurbishment and then about 30 full time workers at the facility. About another 120 indirect jobs will be in the timber industry and other support for the operation.

Hu Honua Files Traffic Study with State

Traffic in the Pepeekeo area of the Hamakua Coast will not be adversely impacted by the proposed Hu Honua Bioenergy facility, according to a study submitted to the state Department of Transportation.

The traffic survey, conducted by SSFM International, Inc., concludes that the additional traffic and delivery trucks anticipated as part of the Hu Honua operations won’t affect the intersection of Route 19 and Sugar Mill Road.

According to the survey, “the intersection is expected to continue to operate at acceptable conditions.”

The engineering firm submitted the report last week; it assessed the traffic at the intersection along the Belt Highway, about 10 miles north of Hilo.

Using current traffic counts along with state and county growth data, SSFM evaluated the future impact of traffic in the area with and without the power plant, and found no significant difference.

The study also found there is sufficient sight distance and turning radius at the intersection to accommodate the trucks that will deliver the biomass to the facility.

SSFM has offices in Honolulu and throughout the Pacific Basin.

Hu Honua Bioenergy LLC is converting the former Hilo Coast Power Company plant into a modern biomass energy facility. After sugar operations ceased, the plant operated for some years as a coal-fired power plant. Hu Honua will use only biomass.
Hu Honua will participate in the cost of maintenance of Sugar Mill Road, a private road that services not only the facility but also neighboring residences. Hu Honua leadership is determining its proper level of contributions to the road maintenance fund, and what entity is entitled to collect those funds.

“In the meantime, at the suggestion of Sen. Malama Solomon, we’ve set up an escrow account to hold what we believe is a more than adequate amount to cover our portion of road maintenance,” said Rick McQuain, president of Hu Honua.

From the outset, Hu Honua has committed to doing its part to maintain Sugar Mill Road, once it is clearly established which entities should properly collect the fees and how much they are.

“We intend to be good neighbors and do our part. Our understanding is that the transfer of deed for at least part of the road is pending or has just been made to Orchards Association. Once that is clearly established, we will work with Orchards to determine what Hu Honua’s contribution is,” McQuain said.

Hu Honua’s goal is to have the biomass facility in full operation by the latter part of 2012. It is currently working on securing a final air permit from the state Department of Health, and a Special Management Area (SMA) use permit from the County of Hawaii. The draft air permit is about halfway through a 30-day public comment period.

“Hu Honua meets or exceeds the stringent requirements of the draft air permit”, McQuain said.

The facility also meets the recently released U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) standards.

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