Peaceful protests, arrests and a dangerous act that stalled traffic and cut electricity to about 1,000 customers spread across the North Shore on Friday in the biggest clash yet over a controversial planned wind farm in Kahuku.
Opponents of the renewable-energy project formed two human blockades that resulted in 55 arrests — as a utility pole with power lines was felled across two-lane Kamehameha Highway between Sunset Beach and Kahuku.
The actions, however, did not stop the initial delivery of a few giant windmill parts from Kalaeloa Harbor to Kahuku on four trucks towing oversize trailers.
Virginia-based AES Corp., developer of the Na Pua Makani wind farm on land leased from the state, received assistance from 237 Honolulu Police Department officers, who arrested people obstructing the convoy in Kalaeloa and Kahuku.
Some protesters criticized the police action, which resulted in more arrests than have been made in a similar resistance on Mauna Kea, where protesters have blocked a public road since July so that construction equipment can’t be delivered for the $1.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope project on Hawaii island.
Law enforcement officers arrested 39 people July 17 for obstructing Mauna Kea Access Road.
“All what we were doing is exercising our First Amendment rights, so give me a break,” said Margaret Primacio, a member of Defend Oahu Coalition who was arrested in Kahuku and described the large police presence as ridiculous.
Primacio, 69, also condemned Hawaii’s government, saying it is easily influenced by large corporations.
“The little people are just squeezed out,” she said. “They’re not represented, and that’s what we’re trying to do here in our community. This is our home, this is our family, this is our aina, this is our kupuna. It means something to us.”
HPD Chief Susan Ballard said at a media briefing Friday that police have a duty to protect life and property and keep the peace.
“In scenes such as last night’s, our officers are there to ensure that no one gets hurt and that the rights of everyone (are) upheld,” she said.
Although some Kahuku residents support Na Pua Makani, many say the turbines lead to health problems that include migraines, nausea and other physiological symptoms caused by constant noises and shadows from the turbines.
Na Pua Makani would be the third wind farm on the North Shore, but the project’s eight turbines would be taller and closer to farms, homes and Kahuku Elementary School.
AES contends that its wind turbines will have no ill health effects and have obtained all regulatory approvals after numerous public meetings and legal challenges.
Wind farm protesters who were arrested — 22 in Kalaeloa late Thursday night and 33 in Kahuku on Friday morning — were booked on petty misdemeanor charges for disobeying police commands related to traffic control after they obstructed movement of the convoy. All those arrested posted $100 bail and had been released by Friday afternoon, Ballard said.
In the incident with the utility pole, Ballard said police determined from evidence that a chain saw was used to cut down the pole shortly before 3 a.m. in an area that was open to public use and could have caused an accident involving live power lines.
“Unlike the protesters who peacefully demonstrated, this act of vandalism was dangerous, selfish and a total disregard for the public safety,” Ballard said. “The downed pole and lines posed a serious threat to motorists and anyone else who came into the area.”
No one was injured. But it inconvenienced many.
Hawaiian Electric Co. said about 1,000 North Shore customers lost power — and closing Kamehameha Highway for repairs delayed thousands of residents from getting to school, work and other places.
“Cutting a utility pole is extremely dangerous and we’re lucky no one was killed or seriously hurt,” Alan Oshima, HECO’s president and CEO, said in a statement.
Kamehameha Highway reopened at about 7:30 a.m., and power was restored to all customers shortly after 8 a.m.
An investigation into the criminal property damage has begun. Penalties include up to 10 years in prison, a $25,000 fine and payment for damage that could be tens of thousands of dollars, Ballard said.
Ballard asked the public — including protesters — for help identifying whoever is responsible for toppling the utility pole, and encouraged the public to refrain from such acts.
“Please, just peacefully protest,” she said. “You have that right, and we ask you to make sure that (you) don’t violate anyone else’s right to live peacefully. This is the state of aloha, so let’s show a little aloha.”
AES is permitted to deliver turbine parts from Sunday nights through Friday mornings between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. So the next possible confrontation between the company and protesters would likely be Sunday night.
Sena Fonoimoana, 36, of Kahuku said Friday evening that protesters will continue their fight.
“We plan to stay here for every single piece of equipment that’s going to come through,” he said.
It’s expected to take until Nov. 26 to deliver all of the equipment necessary for eight turbines rising 568 feet.
Late Thursday night some protesters stationed themselves in Kalaeloa at the intersection of Malakole and Hanua streets, less than a mile from an AES facility from which turbine parts including tower sections were to depart.
Many in the group duct-taped and zip-tied themselves to each other as they sat in the middle of the road.
Police used a megaphone to tell protesters that they were unlawfully occupying the road, but protesters drowned out the warnings by chanting and singing.
Arrests were generally carried out from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m., which allowed the four trucks to depart at 1:15 a.m. headed to Kahuku with police escorts.
After the downed power pole was cleared, the convoy encountered the protest group in Kahuku on Friday morning.
Honolulu police started arresting protesters sheltered under a canopy tent near the entrance to Kahuku Agricultural Park at about 8:15 a.m.
As other police officers with bicycles blocked more than 65 protesters a distance away from the canopy, demonstrators chanted as they watched officers use zip ties to cuff arrested protesters, who were taken in police vans to the Kahuku and Kaneohe police substations.
Tears welled in Sia Tonga’s eyes as she watched the arrests of demonstrators that included kupuna, or seniors, who she said were protecting their families from industrial turbines that will cause harm to the community.
Sonnie Muaina, 34, of protest group Ku Kia‘i Kahuku was arrested in Kalaeloa but resumed her protest in Kahuku.
“These are the women that I have been sitting with all week, so I had to come over to support them,” she said.
Wind farm workers removed a chain-link fence at the park entrance to accommodate the oversize trailers. Soon after the arrest of the last demonstrator at about 10:15 a.m., the delivery was completed.
Then it began to rain, and demonstrators formed a circle in front of the park entrance where they prayed and sang “Hawai‘i Aloha.”
Rebekah Walker, 43, of Punaluu was arrested in Kahuku and returned to the canopy sheltering protesters later in the day. Like Primacio, she criticized the government for failing to hear the community’s concerns. “It’s profit over people,” she said.
“We do this because we feel there is no other way,” Walker said as she sat at a wooden picnic table under the canopy where supporters dropped off plate lunches for demonstrators. “People are just tired of not being heard.”
State Sen. Gil Riviere (D, Heeia- Laie-Waialua) said, “I think it’s clear that this community is vehemently opposed to any more wind turbines, especially the size of these turbines and the location so close to the top. I think it’s terrible that our government agencies have failed to listen to this from the community.”
AES has said that its project, which is scheduled to start operating next year, will produce enough renewable energy to power about 15,000 homes at about the same cost as oil-fired power, will help the state reach its goal for 100% renewable energy by 2045 and will deliver $4.5 million in community benefits.
“We are deeply committed to being good neighbors to the residents of Kahuku,” Mark Miller, the company’s chief operating officer of U.S. power generation, said in a statement Friday. “We remain in close touch with people throughout the North Shore community — including those who have lingering questions about our project. We respect people’s right to voice their opinions about the project, and we continue working closely with Kahuku and the surrounding communities to answer their questions, address their concerns and find the most meaningful way to give back to the community.”