MECO Plans Spark Controversy

Transmission lines, power poles and tree planting plans explored at South Maui meeting. “… we are doomed to 70-foot power poles going down Pi‘ilani Highway.”

Tom Blackburn-Rodriguez
Maui Weekly

It was a packed house at the Kihei Community Association’s (KCA) monthly meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 16, at the Kihei Charter Middle School on Lipoa Street.

After failing to show at a recent Kihei public meeting of the Maui County Charter Commission, the community arrived in full force to hear reports on the status of new Maui Electric Company (MECO) proposal for transmission lines from Ma‘alaea to Wailea and two new power stations, all to be located along Pi‘ilani Highway.

Also on the agenda and leading off the meeting was a review of the newly proposed Maui Planting Plan offered by its primary author, Certified Arborist Ernie Rezents. Rezents outlined the upcoming third edition of the plan which is expected to be published late this year or early next year.

The new plan will exclude the protection of invasive species; include a proposal that parking lots have large, crown shade trees; and include a calculation of the problems caused by trees that are lost, such as reduced wind abatement, cooling shade, Ozone protection and the interception of storm water.

According to Rezents, shade trees in retail parking lots are valued not just for their esthetic appeal. “Research shows that customers come from further, stay longer and spend more where trees shade the parking lot,” he said.

Next at bat and facing a skeptical crowd was Cheryl Okuna, senior associate at Munekiyo & Hiraga, a planning consultancy and project management firm. She presented a thorough and balanced explanation of the MECO plan for the proposed transmission lines along Pi‘ilani Highway and two new substations in Kihei.

One substation is planned south of Ohukai Road; the other is to be located across from Kamali‘i Elementary School. The estimated cost for the two substations is $15.7 million with completion set for December 2015.

Seventy-foot high steel poles will carry the transmission lines from the existing MECO power plant in Ma‘alaea along Pi‘ilani Highway.

The cost of the overhead lines is estimated at $21 million. If the lines were placed underground, the cost could rise to as much as $80 million. MECO will need a Special Management Area Permit for the project and will voluntarily procure an Environmental Impact Statement, although it is not legally required for the project.

Existing law mandates that the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) choose the lowest-cost alternative for proposed power projects of this nature. KCA meeting attendees were very vocal about the limited choices they were presented.

Following the presentation by Okuna, KCA President Jon Miller convened a panel to discuss the Maui Planting Plan and MECO’s transmission pole and line placement plan.

Joining the panel at the invitation of Miller was MECO Principal Engineer Garth Turley, a five-month Maui resident, who sought to answer questions about the option MECO has offered the community.

Miller, who believes MECO’s poles and lines will degrade the beauty of the island and obstruct the view plane from South Maui to Upcountry and Haleakalä, suggested that other less intrusive routes were available to MECO.

“In taking that route [Pi‘ilani Highway], you are getting pigeonholed into underground or overhead and $20 million overhead or $80 million underground,” Miller said to Turley. “In choosing that route, we are doomed to 70-foot power poles going down Pi‘ilani Highway.”

Turley focused on the increasing demand for power in South Maui. “In this area, we are already at the point that if we lose a substation, we would have a difficult time to bring on more load, or in other words, we could have rolling brown outs. We are at the point now where we are having a bad time, so if any more development comes on, you will need more power.”

In response to an audience member who said that tourists did not come to Maui to see power poles, Turley responded, “Tourists have power lines in their backyards, too.”

Miller promised that the KCA would talk to elected representatives and advocate for an underground plan. County Council member Don Couch announced he will ask the PUC to hold a community meeting in Kihei to hear what residents think before making a decision with such significant potential impact.

To comment on MECO’s plan, contact Okuna at Munekiyo & Hiraga, 305 High St., Ste. 104, Wailuku, HI 96793, (808) 244-2015 or Comments must be received by Tuesday, Aug. 30.

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About Andrew

a KCA Board Member and volunteer who enjoys life in South Maui.

2 Responses to “MECO Plans Spark Controversy”

  1. Important Note* In the 1998 Kihei/Makena Community Plan the path along the mauka side of Piilani Hwy was intended for walkway/bikeway.

    MECO is recommending the same route as the Piilani Mauka Pathway (bike/pedestrian path). Thanks MECO!

    MECO’s recommended 70 foot power poles along the Pi’ilani corridor will be an absolute eye sore.

    Basically, because the developers of the N. Kihei retail Mall and Wailea 670 need more power – and wanted it yesterday – then we (everyone else, including future residents of said developments) will get the aesthetic equivalent of a swift-kick-in-the-nuts every time we drive the highway.

    Why would the other developers allow this to occur in front of their proposed developments? We’re bringing in power to proposed developments, but inherently lowering their value, attractiveness and viability by placing 70 foot utility poles in front of them?

    The Kaonoulu substation is being built on a small portion of land that is owned by the Eclipse Development Group (Proposed Outlet Mall, Retail Development, Charlie Jencks)
    Eclipse has to “subdivide” the Kaonoulu land and “sell” the piece of property to MECO, no sweetheart deal, I’m sure ;). So I assume the subdivision has to be approved by County, any chance of an intervention at that point?

    This land is almost between the Eclipse property and the Affordable Housing project for Wailea 670.

    After photographing the proposed path of the power lines. I noted there are many areas of redundancy, creating a corridor of power lines on both sides of Piilani Hwy.

    The power lines would run in front of the proposed developments they are being put into serve. e.g. A&B housing project, Eclipse Retail Development, Kihei High School, Haleakala And Kaonoulu Ranch Development, R&T Park, Hokulani Golf Villas, Elleaire Golf Course, in front of Monsanto and waste water facility, and in front of new police station.

    I would like to call on the other developers to stand up and fight this.

    Was this the vision A&B had for their 600 homes being developed in N. Kihei? what about Eclipse developing a new mall in North Kihei – will this go in front of their lot?

    Where’s the rest of our developers and land owners? Is this the best we can do in front of a new high school? in front of your new housing developments on the ranch properties? Was this the vision for the new business/residential development at the R&T park? How about the luxury housing on the golf course? I’m sure this is a big seller at the Hokulani Golf Villas.

    The community is begging MECO to run these lines underground. If not underground, then on the mountain above the construction/road line. If you have to run them in town, then don’t do it on our major transportation corridor where we get to look at it 6 times a day.

    btw – thanks MECO for choosing the exact same path as the Piilani Mauka Pathway as referenced in the 2003 County maps that detail the “South Maui Region Parks and Open Space Plan”. Brilliant deduction, I hope that took nine engineers and four consultants.

    C’mon, this recommendation is so cockamamie – I almost can’t believe that MECO actually pays for this analysis. And even worse, we have to spend our volunteer time fighting this kind of nonsense.

  2. This is funny… and you make some great points. I look forward to your future commentaries.