Monday, December 10, 2007

Musings: Priorities

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.


Anonymous said...

Joan, another terrific article. I don't know how you manage to come up with so many good thoughts and get them out so quickly. The "Honolulu Advertiser" (not to mention the "Garden Island") could use your skills, but unfortunately your perspective is unlikely to square very well with backers of the paper(s).

Anonymous said...

Laura, not Cynthia Thielen, is the new DLNR director.

As for Chapter 174C (he State Water Code), since it's conceptual inauguration at the 1978 ConCon, the Water Code has been the quintessential political football. The mandate was clear; the foot dragging, obstructionism, and undermining that followed is classic special interest corruption worthy of another Land and Power analysis. Those of us who've been on the front lines for the past 25 years long since stopped asking why, and the last time I spoke with George Cooper, he was about to board a tramp steamer heading west bidding farewell to Hawai‘i forever.

I tell my children that I tried, but it's little consolation, either to them or to me.

Anonymous said...

mahalo joan for highlighting the issues. unfortunate that the priorities of government often run counter to the wellbeing of the very people it should serve. your points about departments, their personnel and budgets are right on. sordid reflections of political values of our dysfunctional system.

Anonymous said...

The Advertiser had their chance with our beloved author and blew it. Lets keep her right here at Kauai Eclectic; a solid, reliable, and enjoyable resource.

Joan Conrow said...

Aw, gee, shucks, thanks, you guys.

Anonymous said...

George did return (albeit briefly) to Kauai about six years ago and then to Oahu a few years thereafter. He does miss some of us.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised Hawaii hasn't considered municipal-sized desalinization systems. One of my clients makes them, currently used in Mexico, Africa, the Middle East, etc. They produce millions of gallons/day.

They also have systems to clean natural and industrial water to drinking standards.

It's one option if growth is assumed to be unstoppable. Make laws to require developments of certain sizes to include (or contribute heavily to common use) desalinization plants of this size.

My client would like it for them!

Anonymous said...

Sure glad you're staying, Joan.
Yep. Water. That's the number one issue. Has anyone noticed the loud silence from meeky Satterfield (you know, the good neighbor boy from down yonder who "thought the 'Indians' over here were gettin' a bum deal.." who hasn't joined support for an EIS on HSf? I have a gnawing feeling that there's something in it for him and his bumpkins. After all, what a priviledge to export Hawaii's public resource to international markets and for military consumption. Poor feller, only raking in about 3 million a year at 5,000 gals. a day. One of my most peeving pet peevers is Kauai Springs. I intend to spring like Niagara as soon as I know they're going to be on the battlefield again.