Citizens Take Immediate Action Against Water Rate Increases

Meeting results in protest trip to Oahu.

By Catherine Cluett

Hope and optimism were in the air as Walter Ritte gathered a group of concerned citizens for a meeting last Wednesday to address the water crisis on Molokai. The goal of the meeting was to “figure out what we can do as a group, and go do it,” said Ritte. The result? A publicity and protest trip to Oahu on Sept. 8.

Brainstorming
Proposed action included sending letters, signing petitions, making phone calls, and paying visits to all council members. Other ideas included raising money and getting international organizations to match funds, T-shirt fundraisers, and all manner of publicity to raise statewide awareness of the issue.

A rate increase of such high proportions (178% approved by the PUC for Wai`ola O Moloka`i) would set a precedent for possible state-wide rate increases. This possible precedent, as Ritte points out, makes the Molokai water situation an issue of concern, not just for residents of Molokai, but for Hawaiians.

One member of the group related how she filed the original complaint against the PUC with the Ombudsman, a legislative office set up to investigate complaints about executive branch agencies. “I came home from the water meeting last week and couldn’t sleep. So the next day I called the Ombudsman’s office, which I didn’t even know existed until then. I told them about our problems and they said they’d do an investigation.” Ritte filed a formal complaint with the office last week, and an investigation of the PUC’s high rate increases is currently underway.

An American Savings Bank account created specifically for funds to purchase the property of the Molokai Ranch currently has a balance of $7,821.25, though no steps are being taken to propose a purchase in the near future.

The group is also looking for a lawyer to assist the effort with understanding legalities and representing the people of Molokai should the need arise.

Immediate Action

Ritte had his own proposal ready: get on a plane, fly to Oahu, and visit the offices of the PUC, the DCCA, the Ombudsman, and the Governor. His plan was to hand each office with petitions signed by concerned individuals and other paperwork to present the issue.

The media will not be left in the dark. Ritte plans to alert TV, radio and newspapers, and to host a press conference with guests including Danny Mateo, the Mayor, and a selection of senators and representatives. The trip would focus on the issue of increased utility rates.

The proposal met with positive group approval and pledges of participation, and the trip is planned for Thursday, Sept 4. Individuals will cover their own travel expenses. If all goes well, another trip will follow to Maui to target a plan for eminent domain.

The meeting also broke into smaller groups to discuss specific further action. The groups addressed T-shirt fundraisers, petition organization, and eminent domain action.

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