Council members approved several amendments to a bill that would allow agricultural tourism on ag land, including one that would prohibit such tourist activities in Waipio Valley.
“The negative impacts of allowing large-scale tourism — the detriment is huge and sets up conflict,” Waipio taro farmer Jim Kane said. “We’re just setting ourselves up for a dangerous situation.”
Taro farmers took those concerns to Council Chairman Dominic Yagong, who introduced the amendment exempting areas of the island which can only be accessed with four-wheel-drive vehicles.
That includes Waipio.
South Kona Councilwoman Brenda Ford introduced the bulk of the amendments to Bill 266, which has generated significant testimony at several recent council meetings.
Her requests that the Planning Department give plan approval and perform a site visit before a farmer, for example, can begin offering ag tourism activities, passed. Her attempts to limit the size of the building in which ag products can be sold, to set a minimum amount of sales that must come from selling ag products, not value-added ones and to limit the number of visitors to no more than 80 per day failed.
Kohala Councilman Pete Hoffmann spoke out against several of the amendments, including the one limiting visitors to 80 per day, although he said he also didn’t necessarily support allowing 30,000 visitors annually, which is just slightly more than an average of 80 visitors daily.
Ford disagreed with Deputy Corporation Counsel William Brilhante, who said the amended bill may need to return to the county’s two planning commissions for review before it can be finalized.
The Planning Department created the bill, and the commissions already signed off on an earlier version, before it was sent to the council.
“Somebody gets to make the final decision and guess what, it’s the policymaking board of the county and it’s the County Council,” Ford said, adding that public testimony showed the public was not happy with the Planning Department’s original bill.
Because of the two major amendments to the bill, Yagong said it would need to be held over to the next council meeting for another vote. He said he would get an opinion from the Corporation Counsel’s office on whether the planning commissions needed to review the amended bill again, because of the substantial changes.
The council passed, without discussion, a measure authorizing about $30 million in general obligation bonds for projects, including the long-awaited South Kona Police Station. Ford introduced the initial measure, which was only for $16 million for the station; Hilo Councilmen Donald Ikeda and Dennis Onishi nearly doubled the measure by adding several more projects.
In other business, Hawaii Electric Light Co. Energy Services Department Manager Curtis Beck told council members Puna Geothermal Venture recently submitted an offer to renegotiate power purchase agreement contracts that tie geothermal energy prices to the cost of oil. Beck said HELCO is preparing a counteroffer. Another power provider, which Beck said he could not name during the meeting, also contacted HELCO about possibly renegotiating its contract.