Resolve Issues at the LOCAL Level

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Issue Management

Windfarms Limited in 1980 sought approval, through the federal impact statement process and County and State permitting, for the construction of twenty wind turbines near Kahuku Point, on the northeast coast of Oahu, Hawaii. At a project cost of $350 million, it involved the proponent, the general contractor, the local public utility company, the turbine assembly company, the large landowner and the public.

wind turbinesThe development situation on Oahu in recent years had been characterized as chaotic and uncertain. Projects had been receiving greater scrutiny than ever before and controversy seemed to be the norm for any project review. Into this context, the proponent brought an attitude that design from a technical point of view only and public contact through the formal review process would be sufficient. Moreover, the proponent felt that since wind is a clean energy source, it would be acceptable to everyone.

These attitudes were not sensitive to local conditions. The local communities of Kahuku, Laie, Hauula, Kahana, Punaluu, and Kaawa, which would be affected by the decision, were highly diverse in background and interests. In addition, past projects in the area had created unresolved negative issues that were being carried informally and with hostility in the communities.

Early on, the proponents, unarmed with an issue-driven assessment process, were caught off guard by demands from the people concerning impacts that they, the Windfarms developers, didn't create. The people had carried their negative experience with another developer into this experience with the "new kid on the block." The developers were faced with the crisis of how to deal with "issue loading."

By shifting to an issue-driven assessment process that included a commitment to work with the informal community networks in resolving issues as they emerged, management was able to separate their project from past projects and, therefore, focus on their impacts. For instance, a planned early announcement of the impending impact assessment (project start-up) would have angered traditional informal community leaders, and the announcement was postponed until these contacts were made. This was a critical strategic decision since a negative start would have been difficult to overcome given the emotions of the people.

It was important to gain control of issue management at the local level since outsiders often try to push their hostility for a project into local networks. For instance, some island environmentalists told local residents that low hums and vibrations of the wind machines would be intrusive health-wise and would foul up their TVs. Good information about this issue in the local network setting defused the issue. The proposed flashing aircraft warning lights on the wind towers caused consternation in the community - "Our mountains look like Christmas trees already!" This was resolved by shielding the lights from ground view.

One early controversy was created by the use of out-of-area high school students to fly meteorological kites. Kite flying is a traditional and highly-honored sport among Hawaiians, who were outraged when their expertise was bypassed.

Finally and most seriously, the plans of the proponent to transport assembled towers by highway would not have been acceptable to the communities, and they wisely worked out a barging-by-water solution.

Other issues and impacts were addressed through mitigation agreements contained in the permit. These included:

Kahuku Wind Farms was the first development approved in eight years on Oahu with full citizen support.

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