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Dispute Over Native Rights May Kill Geothermal Funds

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Every Sunday, “Back in the Day” looks at an article that ran on this date in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. The items are verbatim, so don’t blame us today for yesteryear’s bad grammar.


HILO — Federal funds for the Hawaii Geothermal Project will be cut off if the concerns of native Hawaiians are taken into consideration, a U.S. Department of Energy official said yesterday.

"If the rights of native Hawaiians are not resolved, I have the power and I will take steps to stop the project," Ronald Toms, Pacific regional program manager for the department’s Geothermal Division, told a news conference.

Toms spoke after meeting for several hours with representatives of a dozen or more native Hawaiian organizations during the Geothermal Resources Council convention in Hilo which concludes today.

Toms also announced that he will fund a small planning group consisting of at least two native Hawaiians to study the problems posed to Hawaiians by geothermal development.

The amount of the funding was not given, but he said the money would be enough to let the group’s members travel extensively and interact with all levels of government.

The announced funding was in addition to a $20,000 grant made by the Energy Department to the United Indian Planners Association (UIPA) to help Hawaiians participate in the planning and development of geothermal resources.

Members of the UIPA have been participating in the geothermal convention and meeting with Hawaiians through the Alu Like Native Americans Program.

Andrew Ebona, executive director of the UIPA, said his organization would represent Hawaiian concerns about geothermal energy in Washington by including feedback from Hawaiians in the group’s reports.

Kahala Ann Trask Gibson, attorney for Ho‘ala Kanawai Inc., a nonprofit native Hawaiian corporation designed to handle funds from state lands, said Hawaiians have a special claim to geothermal resources based on section 5(f) of the act which admitted Hawaii to statehood.

Section 5(f) orders the use of income from certain public lands in the state for four purposes, one of which is "betterment of the conditions of native Hawaiians."

"We have gotten nothing" from that provision, Gibson said.

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