By: Kryssa Stevenson
Early Wednesday morning of November 20th this year, the last transport was made for a controversial wind turbine project under construction in Kahuku, HI. For local residents who have been peacefully protesting the turbines since deliveries began late October, it was heartbreaking, as they fear the turbines will have negative effects on the community. These eight monster turbines will be 568 feet tall and less than 1,750 away from residential homes and Kahuku Elementary School. This will not only make the Na Pua Makani wind turbines the largest in the nation, but also the only to have ever been built in such close proximity to local homes and businesses, giving rise to the concern that the turbines are “too big, too close.”
*See: https://www.wind-watch.org/news/2019/08/14/kahuku-wind-farm-to-include-8-wind-turbines-as-tall-as-56-story-buildings/ for more info on these monstrous turbines*
While those who are pro NPM might argue that now is much too late to oppose the project, local community members state that the turbine debate is nothing new.
“We’ve been saying no to the turbines for years,” says Kahuku resident Lilia Fonoimoana, “We’ve been saying no…and the government hasn’t been listening. That’s how we’ve gotten to this point.”
The fight against NPM’s turbine project started over ten years ago. Since then, twelve smaller turbines have been constructed in Kahuku, and some residents claim they have already experienced negative side-effects such as insomnia, shadow flicker, and sound pollution. Not to mention that the turbines also pose a threat to the Hawaiian Hoary Bat, an indigenous species that has cultural significance to the Hawaiian people.
Since the first transport in October, more than 200 citizens have been arrested for peacefully protesting against the turbines. In a little over a month, NPM has led to more arrests than Mauna Kea. And given that the resistance there started in July, that says a lot about the kind of pushback experienced in Kahuku.
When asked about why Kahuku was receiving a more aggressive approach than the Mauna, BYU-Hawaii student Hueina Hemaloto stated, “I think it has something to do with how it’s such a small community here. Because we’re a small town, that makes it much more of a local issue and big corporations feel like they can do whatever they want. Whereas Mauna Kea represents all of Hawaii, and it’s much more of a worldwide symbol.”
Much of the concerns over the turbines has come from the fact that community members are losing faith in the state and local government. On Friday, November 1st, Kahuku Elementary students went with their parents to visit Mayor Caldwell in Honolulu to discuss their concerns about the turbines. Rather than meet with these children and their parents, Mayor Caldwell stayed in his office and had twelve police officers escort them out with a paragraph stating that he supported NPM.
In a press conference held November 16th, Honolulu Police Department Deputy Chief John McCarthy stated protesters used “aggressive and offensive” tactics at a rally in Kalaeloa on Thursday, November 14th. On that particular night community members streamed live footage of HPD officers shoving back the crowd with their bicycles, and three men were bodily thrown onto the ground for supposedly “harassing a police officer.” This kind of misrepresentation has led to a rift between citizens and government officials. During the protests, many started wearing duct tape over their mouths with the message “Our Voices Matter.”
Even now that all of the transports have been made and NPM’s monster turbines are set to be operational by the summer of 2020, the people of Kahuku haven’t lost hope. They still hold firm to the belief that their voices do indeed, matter. With all parts for the turbines now on-site in Kahuku, the focus has shifted from peaceful protesting to speaking up to officials overseeing and assisting with the project. Hours after the final transport was made, several community members went to the Honolulu Police Commission to discuss incidents of HPD officers using excessive force during the transports. That same Friday, November 22nd, a rally was held outside of the Public Utilities Commission before a hearing held at 1:30 p.m. During the PUC hearing, three attorneys, one of which represented Kahuku, met to discuss Life of the Land’s motion to have the turbines removed. Community members crammed inside of the hearing, all decked in red and eager to have their side represented.
“We feel like we got rigged in on the process,” Lilia Fonoimoana adds, “We don’t want our children and grandchildren to become the guinea pigs of these turbines.”
Last week north shore community members also met with Andrea Tupoula and energy justice lawyer Raya Salter in Haleiwa, Hau’ula, and Kahuku to discuss ways the community can push for energy justice. So while NPM may have all the supplies they need to build their monster turbines, Kahuku is far from giving up.
“We just want them to stop,” says community member Tausaga Matavao, “We want these things out of our community and away from our kids. Even if it takes four or five years to make that happen, it’ll be worth it.”