ANAHOLA — If local residents have their way, the Anahola Renewable Energy Project will be stopped dead in its tracks. Project supporters, however, are saying much of the opposition is being fueled by misinformation and rumors.
The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands is proposing to lease more than 2,000 acres of Anahola lands to Green Energy Team, LLC of Kaua‘i for the purpose of clearing existing albizia trees for its planned biomass-to-energy facility near Koloa.
More than 200 residents, mostly from Anahola, showed strong opposition to the project — concerned that the lease would privatize Hawaiian homestead lands — at a Beneficiary Consultation meeting held Friday evening at Anahola Clubhouse.
“With this lease, even a blind man can see, we’ll never get our lands back,” Joe Borden, the newly-elected president of the Anahola Farmers and Ranchers group, said prior to Friday’s gathering.
Tempers flared during the event — which lacked any sort of control by the meeting’s organizer, DHHL — with people screaming over one another from start to finish.
“Somebody along the way recommended this as a good deal for Hawaiians,” Anahola resident Shane Cobb-Adams said. “And I want to know who they are … It’s a bad idea.”
The 30-year proposed lease is for 2,143 acres of land belonging to native Hawaiians under the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920. If approved, the land would be used for clearing trees and replanting and harvesting biomass feedstock, which would be delivered to Green Energy’s state-of-the-art, $90 million facility.
Construction of the facility near the Knudsen Gap is scheduled to begin this year. When finished, it is expected to provide enough electricity to power 8,500 households, replacing 3.7 million gallons annually of imported oil, as previously reported by The Garden Island.
Erik Knutzen, co-founder of Green Energy, said Friday’s consultation was an important opportunity to provide information and allow the community to voice its concerns — which were plentiful.
“We heard everyone’s voice, and that’s important,” he said. “It’s not unusual when people first hear these things, that they create rumors.”
Knutzen said there is a lot of misinformation circulating regarding the proposal. The main objective is to clear the land — now deemed “unusable” for agriculture or ranching because of invasive albizia trees — and establish homesteading agricultural lots, he said.
“The Green Energy Project is only the shovel,” he said. “It’s their lands, and they can use the shovel to get to their vision of homesteading.”
In an email to all board members of Anahola Hawaiian Homes Association, the president of the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, Robin Danner, described the behavior at Friday’s meeting as “horrible.”
Danner, who is also AHHA’s secretary, said if the project is not carried out, the lands will remain unusable for another 20 years and not be issued for homesteading to beneficiaries on the waiting list.
“It’s too late for homesteaders of my generation to become farmers (we’re too old), but it’s not too late for the next generation,” she wrote in the email.
In addition to clearing the invasive trees and providing annual lease revenue, the proposal includes a Community Benefit Agreement to maximize value to the impacted community and its beneficiaries.
AHHA Board Member and former Kaua‘i County Councilman KipuKai Kuali‘i said he is in favor of the plan and believes the majority of others would be too if they had the correct information.
“I’m supporting it basically because it’s smart, it’s green, it’s renewable, it’s efficient use of the land,” said Kuali‘i, adding that the land right now is unusable.
The complaints Friday by local residents were “premature and unfounded,” he said.
“I just think that this is a great opportunity for positive things to happen,” Kuali‘i said. “It’s hard to find those truly win-win situations, but this is one of them.”
Kekane Pa, an elected Nobel of the Reinstated Hawaiian Government and one of the most outspoken opponents during Friday’s meeting, disagreed, saying the proposal is only part of a much larger “dog and pony show.”
“How is it possible that these people, who don’t have Hawaiian blood or qualify under federal regulations, can qualify for land leases?” he asked. “Our objection to this proposal has nothing to do with the Knudsens. It all has to do with the Department of Hawaiian Homelands.”
Pa said only 2 percent of the money generated from the project would go to the beneficiaries, while the rest would go to Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative and Green Energy.
“Why would the Hawaiian people — who are not federally recognized — agree to giving (up) the land, (when) in return they get only 2 percent?” he asked. “It’s about corporate greed, 98 percent for the corporation and 2 percent for the beneficiary.”
Kuali‘i argues that the 2 percent does not represent the total benefit to the Hawaiian people.
“The 2 percent is just the piece that is literally going back to the neighborhoods … for educational programs, job training programs, maybe maintaining the (picnic area).”
Other concerns raised at Friday’s meeting include the environmental impacts of planting what one person described as “nitrogen-sucking” eucalyptus trees; control of water; a lack of outreach and information from AHHA and Green Energy; the impact to current lessees; and how the project will affect recreational users, including hunters and dirt-bike riders.
“How much more land are you going to take?” a man repeated more than a dozen times.
“How come you feel like you got to help us so bad?” another man screamed from the audience. “Why Anahola?”
The public is invited to comment on the proposed energy project at one of two public hearings on Kaua‘i before the Hawaiian Homes Commission later this week.
The meetings are scheduled for Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at King Kaumuali‘i Elementary School in Hanama‘ulu, and Friday at 9 a.m. at Aston Aloha Beach Hotel in Kapa‘a.
Call Linda Chinn at (808) 620-9451 for more information about the hearings.