Wind Farm Protesters Arrested As They Blockade Road For Construction Vehicles
UPDATED: After the arrests, four construction trucks carrying sections of turbines left for the wind farm site in Kahuku but were later blocked by a downed power pole that HECO says was intentionally cut down.
Honolulu police arrested 55 people Thursday night and Friday morning in a 12-hour operation to transport four pieces of a wind turbine for the planned Na Pua Makani wind farm.
At least 22 arrests were made as of early Friday morning as protesters blocked an access road in Kalaeloa to prevent construction vehicles from transporting turbine parts and other equipment to the wind farm project in Kahuku.
After the last arrest around 1:20 a.m., four construction trucks carrying sections of the turbines left the yard headed toward Kahuku. They were escorted by HPD vehicles, while police on foot lined both sides of the road.
Monday morning, 33 were arrested in front of Kahuku Agriculture park, charged with disobeying a police officer, a petty misdemeanor.
At an afternoon press conference, Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard said about 237 police officers were on Oahu roadways between Kalaeloa and Kahuku during the nearly 12-hour operation.
At about 2:30 a.m., downed power lines blocked the highway near Kawela Bay, and the convoy stalled. A utility pole was “cut down intentionally” knocking out power for nearly 1,000 customers, according to Shannon Tangonan, a spokesperson for Hawaiian Electric Co. It’s unclear who cut down the pole, she said. Police are investigating but don’t yet have a suspect.
Police found a chainsaw blade that matched cuts in the downed pole, Ballard said.
“Unlike the protesters who peacefully demonstrated, this act of vandalism was dangerous, selfish and a total disregard for the public safety,” Ballard said.
In Kalaeloa Thursday night, some protesters had prepared for the arrests by zip tying and duct taping themselves to one another in order to make their removal more difficult. About 20 protesters sat on the ground singing “onipaa kakou” from the song “All Hawaii Stand Together,” which is frequently sung at recent Hawaiian protests, as police got into position to arrest them.
More than 100 wind farm opponents gathered at the blockade. They call themselves kiai, or protectors, in the spirit of the protesters on Mauna Kea who for the last three months have halted the start of the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope.
Shortly before 11 p.m. Thursday, a large contingent of several dozen officers closed off the intersection of Hanua and Malakole streets leading to the protest site.
Police ordered the crowd three times to vacate the area or risk arrest.
Beginning at 11 p.m., police placed zip ties on the wrists of those arrested and carried them to waiting police vans.
The arrests of the 22 individuals took police more than two hours. Many of those arrested came from the Leeward Coast and Ewa.
A Honolulu police officer said this was the first time there has been a police presence in Kalaeloa even though the activists started coming to the area every night since Sunday.
“When was the last time you saw Waianae and Kahuku get along?” said Waianae resident Kaukaohu Wahilani as he stood on a grassy knoll just to the side of the protesters.
Some protesters from Kalaeloa posted social media videos early Friday morning of the convoy heading to Oahu’s North Shore.
The large vehicles carrying the turbines are restricted to driving on Oahu roads between 11 p.m.and 5 a.m.
A community group in Kahuku has been leading the fight against the plan to install eight new wind turbines, which at 568 feet would be the tallest turbines in the state, at the site. There are already a dozen existing turbines in the area.
Opponents argue the wind project is too big and too close to neighbors. They also cite concerns about noise pollution, flickering shadows and loss of property values, as well as threats to native hoary bats, which are sacred in Hawaiian culture.
Sen. Kurt Fevella, who was also at the protest in Kalaeloa, said the threat to native bats, or opeapea, is particularly concerning.
“Show me anywhere else in the world where it’s OK to kill an endangered species,” he said.
Opponents have been protesting outside the Kahuku site for the last week.
AES Corp, which is building the Na Pua Makani wind farm, says it has properly followed all the steps needed to win approval for the project.
“We continue to work closely with officials, community members and our many stakeholders to assess the delivery of the Nā Pua Makani components safely, with minimal disruption to O‘ahu residents, and with the utmost respect for the protestors,” said Mark Miller, an AES executive.
“After performing extensive studies and securing all of the necessary permits, we are confident that we are building a project that is safe and, ultimately, will help Hawai‘i meet its renewable energy goals.”
Asked about the mayor’s stance on the protest, Caldwell’s communications director Andrew Pereira pointed out that Mayor Kirk Caldwell has been on a trip in Denmark since Oct. 7 and won’t be back until Oct. 22. Pereira offered a brief statement by email.
“The city respects the right to speak out under the First Amendment, and will defend that right,” he said. “However, we are also a city governed by laws that everyone must respect.”
Blaze Lovell is spending a year as a local investigations fellow with The New York Times. He was previously a reporter for Civil Beat. Born and raised on Oahu, Lovell is a graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.