The state Department of Land and Natural Resources Board approved "pretty much the final piece of the puzzle" for the expansion of the Kaheawa wind farm, said First Wind spokesman Kekoa Kaluhiwa.
The board's unanimous decision more than a week ago to approve the DLNR staff- and company-submitted incidental take license for four endangered or threatened species and a habitat conservation plan was one of three Maui issues taken up by the board at its regular meeting.
The other issue decided upon involved handing out a fine for a tour boat's accidental grounding and damage to some Molokini coral. On the final item, the board decided to hold off on voting about allegations that sand was put back on a Spreckelsville beach without required state approval.
The board, which had a long agenda at its Nov. 10 meeting in Honolulu, rescheduled the beach-rebuilding matter for Dec. 9.
"It's been a long process, but we're really pleased with the progress we've made so far," Kaluhiwa said of Kaheawa Wind Power II.
Kaluhiwa said the project still needs U.S. Fish and Wildlife approval but was confident the federal agency would reach the same conclusions as the state, since they've been cooperating all along.
The overall expansion project involves adding 14 new turbines as well as battery backup and transmission lines along with other infrastructure. That ground work is done, Kaluhiwa said, and the turbines are waiting in Kihei.
The company wants to begin turbine installation next month, Kaluhiwa said. First Wind has agreed to provide Maui Electric Co. with a combined 51 megawatts of clean energy at peak output.
If all goes as planned, the project should be complete in June or July, Kaluhiwa said.
A take license and habitat plan account for the likelihood that some Hawaiian petrels, Newell's shearwaters, nenes and Hawaiian hoary bats in the area will be hurt or killed by the blades in the coming years.
In exchange for the state's losing some of its dependence on fossil fuels, First Wind and DLNR experts figured out a number of methods to avoid and mitigate injuries and deaths.
The plan does put limits on how many birds, chicks and eggs can be lost, such as a total of 33 petrels within 20 years, according to DLNR board documents.
The plan also requires monitoring, surveying and exclusion of predators. Experts will also set up nets and other devices to safely capture the target species before they reach danger, it is hoped, and then relocate and release them in safer areas such as atop Haleakala and in West Maui.
At its meeting, the board also fined Maka Kai Charters $19,000 after a catamaran ran aground in 2008 damaging 121 specimens of live stony coral. Maka Kai is owned by Jim and Randy Coon of Trilogy Excursions.
But in their recommendations, DLNR staff wrote that while the incident was very regrettable, Trilogy had an unblemished track record dating back to the 1970s.
And the Coon brothers over the years have spent a substantial amount of their own money to preserve and protect the underwater environment, the staff said.
The DLNR also categorized the coral as medium grade and said its proximity to waves, with nutrients, means it will probably grow back.
The Aug. 13, 2008, incident involved the Trilogy II, a 55-foot, 49-person vessel. Capt. Lawrence Lee decided not to take the normal route into Molokini's crater in order to treat the passengers to a view of Molokini's steep back, according to the findings.
But he grounded the boat. However, Lee was commended for doing "everything right" afterward. He put the boat in neutral, secured it safely to a mooring, never lost power, avoided sinking and flagged down another craft to transfer the passengers, assuring their safety all along.
The 53-year-old captain was experienced and known for being cautious. However, he still was suspended for six months and later quit to work in the public sector, Jim Coon said.
"Accidents can happen to anyone. That's the bottom line," said Coon, who called the decision fair. "We just really want to continue to be industry leaders in protecting the environment."
The fine will go toward coral outreach and educational projects.
* Chris Hamilton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.