The stars were thickly sprinkled across a clear sky they shared with a sliver of white moon when Koko and I went walking this morning. We didn’t know that within 45 minutes the clouds would stage a take-over and a light rain would fall just as the sun was rising, creating shafts of rosy light and a double vertical rainbow at the base of Waialeale.
We walked hugging the guardrail to give wide berth to those motorists, who are also usually speeding, that refuse to share the road by moving even an inch toward the center.
A slow-moving truck, the kind all walkers appreciate, slowed even more, and it turned out to be farmer Jerry, who thankfully did not talk about the Super Bowl and its commercials, whose relative popularity the Advertiser actually considers “breaking news,” but a recent meeting with the consultant who prepared the county’s energy plan.
It seems the consultant failed to conduct an inventory of Kauai’s agricultural lands and irrigation systems before coming up with a plan that recommended extensive cultivation of biofuels. “So now you have biofuels competing with food production,” Jerry said. “You can’t look at one without the other.”
He talked about all the energy it takes to ship food here, and to keep it frozen in transport. “If you want to save energy, you try to produce more food locally,” he noted. But instead of emphasizing food production, the state is pouring millions into biofuels, even though there still isn’t one successful biofuel operation in the entire state.
He was also concerned about the proposal for a 50-cent per gallon fuel surcharge, which he sees as inflationary, because businesses would pass that cost along to their customers, who would also be paying higher prices at the pump.
There’s no doubt we need to wean ourselves off imported oil, but it’s pretty hard to sock folks with an extra 50 cents a gallon before we have viable alternatives to abandoning our cars, like a much more comprehensive bus system. Otherwise, a lot of folks who are barely making it right now would be struggling even more.
Speaking of which, I attended a meeting of the Kauai Food Bank the other day where it was revealed that the demand for food increased 40 percent from 2008 to 2009, with about 18 percent of the island’s total population now receiving assistance. A third of the recipients are employed, 21 percent are homeless, 56 percent have income below federal poverty levels, 37 percent are kids, 10 percent are elderly and 40 percent are Native Hawaiians or Pacific Islanders.
We’re talking post-Iniki levels of need here.
Meanwhile, as The Garden Island reported, the hotels are remaining “mum” about their occupancy levels, which slipped below 50 percent in November.
Lanai, which put all its eggs in the luxury tourism and second home market after pineapple crashed, is also reeling, with reports that an estimated 10 percent of its residents moved away. The down economy makes it easier to push the massive windfarm that Lanai’s owner, Castle & Cooke, wants, but the residents, reportedly not quite so much.
I recall Councilman and hotelier Jay Furfaro saying that tourism is no longer a growth industry, and hasn’t been for the past 10 years. What is growing is the part-time resident/second-home market, which tourism feeds. But even that wasn't spared on Lanai, where construction has also ground to a halt.
So is Lanai an indication of what we can expect for the rest of the state if we don’t get our economy diversified? Or can we really believe the visitor industry folks who say, “Don’t worry, things are gonna turn around soon?”
With all the troubling economic and other issues on its plate, it becomes even more puzzling that the county is wasting precious resources bulldozing Hawaiian fishing shacks that supposedly were partly located on park land that isn't even in use. The county may now be facing a lawsuit over the action, and if it’s brought by the top-notch attorney who has offered to help the families, there’s a very good chance the county will lose.
In a follow-up story on the bulldozings that attempted to correct the glaring errors of its first mangled piece, which unfortunately was widely picked up by Honolulu media that no longer bother to cover, or even fact-check, off-island stories themselves, The Garden Island reported that the county had never engaged in any meditation or other discussions with these families before bulldozing their structures.
It seems that simply sitting down with these folks would have been a good first step, and that a bit of compassion and negotiation might also have been in order, seeing as how these families don’t have money just lying around for a survey, like the county does.
Instead, the county took the second of its usual two options: do nothing, or total overkill. And Mayor Carvalho and his mouthpiece, Beth Tokioka, got a well-deserved public relations black eye in the process.