It was starry in the very center of the sky, but cloudy all around the edges, as Koko and I walked this no moon/new moon dark morning, sticking to the street to avoid sticks and stickers along the side of the road.
A couple of dogs rattled their chains as we passed, but refrained from barking, much to the appreciation of all. I’m never sure when my pre-dawn forays might set off a dog, but once one starts barking, another five or six or eight are sure to add their voices to the chorus.
With the Legislative session just over the horizon, the state Department of Transportation already has begun blowing its own horn to drum up support for some $800 million in harbor projects proposed for completion over the next five to six years, according to a front page article in Sunday’s Honolulu Advertiser.
“At stake, they say, is nothing less than the future of Hawaii's economic growth,” the article reports.
That article got me wondering about a couple of things. First, does the $800 million price tag include the reported $80 million I’ve been told it will cost to prepare Kawaihae Harbor on the Big Island for Hawaii Superferry? And second, just what are our priorities as a state, when it comes to the touchy subject of economic growth?
A couple of days ago I posted a piece about some of the proposed changes to the state Water Plan. Today I tallied up the cost of these proposals, which cover things like conservation, enforcement, watershed protection, baseline studies and other activities designed to get a handle on how much water we have, and how much we’re using. The short-term projects, those that would be carried out over the next four years, totaled $6.725 million. The cost of the long-term projects is still to be determined.
The Commission on Water Resource Management, which is proposing the water plan changes and projects, is part of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR). For 2007, the entire DLNR budget was $94 million — slightly more than one-tenth the amount DOT wants to spend solely on harbor projects.
The DLNR, in case you don’t know, is charged with nothing less than protecting and conserving all of the state’s natural, cultural and historic resources, including enforcement actions. But just $3 million of the agency's 2008 budget is earmarked for preserving native ecosystems and protecting watersheds, as well as developing the state's forest industry.
I know that our harbors are important; according to the Advertiser article, 80 percent of everything consumed in Hawaii is imported, and 98 percent of that arrives by water.
But without healthy watersheds and pure, abundant water, — which the Hawaiians called wai, their word for wealth — we have nothing — not even the opportunity to break the chains that keep us bound to all that imported stuff that keeps arriving at our harbors.
Still, real reality is different than political reality, so let's look at the latter. The $800 million list of harbor projects is being proposed by the state’s most powerful, well-funded agency, whose former director, Barry Fukunaga, was last week named the governor’s chief of staff. The projects are also backed by a well-heeled contingent of powerful harbor users, who can easily rally us hungry-for-everything consumers to their side.
The water projects, on the other hand, are proposed by one of the state’s least powerful and most poorly funded agencies, whose director, Cynthia (oops, I meant Laura, thanks for the catch, Disgusted Professor.) Thielen, is new to the job. Many powerful, well-heeled water users stand to gain if the state never comes up with the dough to finish the in-stream flow standard work needed to evaluate the fairness of current stream diversions. They benefit if the state fails to take a careful look at how much groundwater is being pumped by private users, or lacks the manpower to enforce water permit allocations. And we consumers, the same ones who don’t want to lose our food and other good stuff, tend to be ignorant of water’s true value and complacent about its unending availability.
So which expenditures do you think are most likely to get attention from the media, heavy lobbying, and funding from the Legislature? And which expenditures will most truly affect the future of Hawaii, including its economic growth?
From my perspective, looking up daily at one of Earth’s wettest spots, Waialeale, I’ve come to recognize that water is THE issue — but it’s a sleeper. Maybe, though, we’ll wake up and see the light, before it’s too late to protect this crucial resource.
BTW, a couple of folks asked when I’m going to move. I meant to report earlier that I changed my mind and am staying right here, at least for the foreseeable future. So you’ll still hear about my neighbor Andy, although his house was dark when I passed this morning, and maybe even a word or two about my neighbor’s cat, which used to be my friend — until it came on my porch and peed on my umbrella.