Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Musings: Superferry Spends Large

I know the sun rose today, because that’s what it does every morning, right? But I swear it actually got darker when Koko and I were out walking, and the sky looked like it wanted to rain so badly it could cry.

I’m headed over to Honolulu this morning, so this will be a quickie post — and all about the Superferry — starting with a referral to Ian Lind’s blog, where he reports that Hawaii Superferry disclosed less than 6 percent of its 2007 lobbying costs.

If you’ve been wondering how much it costs to buy the kind of influence HSF has — at least, the reportable kine spending — the answer is $379,431.52. That the amended filing occurred at all is due to Ian, who complained to the Ethics Commission that significant expenses were missing from the original report. HSF initially claimed the company had spent just $21,791.56, which we all know doesn’t buy diddly. Then Dan Mollway guys apparently put the squeeze on HSF to comply.

Ian’s posting prompted Larry Geller at Disappeared News to write an open letter to Mollway wondering if the Ethics Commission is planning a formal hearing into the matter, since the state lobbying law provides for administrative fines against those who "Willfully file[s] a statement or report containing false information or material omission of any fact."

This filing, which occurs many months after the company got its special session legislation seems to me yet another indication of the disingenuousness that characterizes the HSF business model.

And you have to wonder, how come the dailies weren’t on this? After all, Ian first wrote about the discrepancy back in May 2007.

Ian has another post today about the Argent Group, and its role in securing the federal loan guarantees for HSF. It’ll be interesting to dig into the documents he’s linked when I have some time.

Meanwhile, a report in Marine Daily News notes that Austal USA, which built the big boat, has launched the Independence, its prototype Littoral Combat Ship. It states:

As the prime contractor, and the only shipyard with a track record of building large (over 100 metres in length) high speed aluminum vessels in the USA, Austal is confident of its ability to deliver a low risk JHSV [Joint High Speed Vessel] platform to the US Navy and Army.

But no, the Superferry — the largest high speed aluminum catamaran constructed in the US — doesn't have anything to do with the military.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Musings: Cuz We're Hungry

The wind woke me this morning, the kind of cool, gusty wind that blows up from the valley and sets the curtains fluttering and gusts through the camphor trees and rubs the guava branches against the house.

But it had disappeared by the time Koko and I set out into a warm, muggy world of gray upon gray, and then the sun appeared and bled briefly into the sky before its flow of pink light was staunched by the clouds.

Ran into farmer Jerry, who had a day of planting papaya before him, and it got me thinking again about food, and its production here on Kauai, especially since just the afternoon before I’d picked up bags of fabulous fresh produce from John and Nandanie Wooten at what seemed to me an impossibly low price.

I heard there was a run on rice here on Kauai while I was on Lanai. Apparently Wal-Mart ran out, prompting some folks to think the food shortages that are hitting the rest of the world were extending to the Islands. So they made a run on rice in the other stores, buying 10 to 20 bags at a crack and quickly clearing the shelves.

Jerry said that in the plantation days, he knew many Filipinos who kept 100 pounds of rice under the bed. If the food supply was disrupted, they could always eat from their gardens, go fishing, buy a cow or kill a goat and live pretty well so long as they had rice, their staple. And I thought, at least they have gardens, and know how to fish, hunt and butcher their own meat. But what about all the people on Kauai who don’t?

The subject of food came up several times in my discussions with Lanai residents. Even that relatively arid island was totally self-sufficient at one time, Kepa Maly told me, with the island’s 3,200 residents — that's the 1823-25 missionary guesstimate; pre-contact could have been 6,000 — cultivating taro and giant sweet potatoes (some large enough to fill a 5-gallon bucket) and getting fish and other goodies from the sea.

The resident population still hovers at around 3,200, but nearly all the food now comes in on the barge, except some of the wealthy newcomers actually ship in their own grinds via Fed Ex.

We’ve gotten so spoiled — and so complacent — about something that is crucial to our survival.

Meanwhile, I heard on Democracy Now! yesterday about the food protests that continue around the globe. “Aid experts say soaring global prices for food and fuel threaten to push 100 million people worldwide into hunger,” it reported.

While millions feel the pangs of hunger, who benefits? You guessed it — the fat cat multinational corporations:

A new report from the non-profit group GRAIN has found that global agribusiness firms, traders and speculators are raking in huge profits due to the global food crisis. Cargill, the world’s biggest grain trader, achieved an 86 percent increase in profits from commodity trading in the first quarter of this year. The agribusiness giant Bunge had a 77 percent increase in profits during the last quarter of last year. And Archer Daniels Midland Company registered a 67 percent increase in profits in 2007.

And here we are in Hawaii, the most isolated inhabited land mass on Earth, importing virtually every morsel we eat, with at most an eight-day supply of food in the stores. And with airlines closing and fuel prices soaring, what are we doing? We’re giving up our ag land to luxury homes and vacation rentals, squandering our precious water to irrigate non-native landscaping and acres of grass in the heat of mid-afternoon.

Do we really think we’re immune to food shortages and hunger here? It’s been a constant in Island life and for many of our poorest residents, it still is, and that situation is likely to worsen as food prices rise. I’ve had locals my age tell me they used to catch doves and rice birds for after-school snacks because they didn’t have enough to eat.

So what are those in a position to make a difference, like Grove Farm, Kauai’s largest private landowner, doing to address this precarious situation?

An article in this week’s Kauai People has GF President Warren Haruki tooting the company’s horn in the area of diversified agriculture, citing as an example its efforts to grow wetland taro in Mahaulepu.

It quotes Haruki as saying:

"We would encourage potential farmers or others interested in participating in that effort to contact us."

But farmers familiar with Grove Farm’s operations tell me that’s not how it is. It’s more of exclusive thing; in fact, GF actually kicked out some guys who were already growing taro there so they could bring in their own man.

As one source told me: “All the people on their [Grove Farm’s] lands, even the ranchers, are very worried because they all have short term leases that are heavily weighted toward GF, and that GF can get out of easily.”

Does that sound like a long-term commitment to diversified ag, or a company that wants to make sure it’s ready to roll when real estate prices start edging up again? But it makes for good PR, just like Haruki’s comment about the company’s Oahu aquaculture enterprise:

"It’s another initiative to basically grow what we eat in the state - food security."

Meanwhile, Grove Farm sells land to Costco, which imports everything and undercuts the prices of every farmer on the island.

And then I hear that Gay & Robinson, which has 7,000 acres of its own in sugar cultivation, is now angling to get the state-owned Kalepa Ridge lands, which represent the public’s last chance for affordable farmland on the eastside, for a bagasse bioenergy plant.

Our other major landowner, A&B, is busy growing coffee and building luxury homes in Poipu.

My point is that the big landowners are not looking out for the long term interests of the people of this island when it comes to food — or anything else, for that matter. So it's up to us, guys.

We need to make sure that public ag lands are used for food farming, not energy projects, and that crucial water resources are pried loose from Grove Farm and A&B, which have development, not agriculture, on their mind.

We need to advocate for farmer training programs to help those who want to farm learn the skills needed to do it successfully. We need to keep planting food of all kinds in our own yards. And we need to support the efforts of local farmers even if it means paying a bit more for our food.

Because if we don’t, bumby we’re gonna find our opu is not full, but empty.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Musings: No Mea Culpa

The moon was a perfect half, gleaming in a blue and cloud sky that quickly blushed pink in anticipation of the sun’s arrival, when Koko and I went walking on this sultry morning.

Accompanied by the steady drone of bees, who start work well before the birds, we passed a mango tree heavily laden with small fruits, lychee already turning red in a pasture, a stand of spider lilies, whose fragrant blooms I gathered into a bouquet, a papery yellow jackets’ nest, deserted by its former inhabitants, and two of Koko’s dog friends, who rushed out into the street to greet us.

Returning home, I dug for a while in my yard to accommodate a taro patch that wants to keep expanding, then scanned my neighbor’s newspaper, where an AP story quoted a real estate agent whining that the vog is unraveling her real estate deals in the Big Island’s Ka`u District. It’s hard to have sympathy for realtors, especially those selling land down slope of an active volcano.

I do, however, have a great deal of sympathy for Anahola resident Hale Mawae, who was roughed up by the cops and arrested for trespassing and resisting arrest when he questioned why he couldn’t walk on Hanalei Plantation Road in Princeville, which most people would consider a public road.

So I was glad to read in Andy Parx’s blog that the KKCR Board of Directors, whose staff grossly overreacted and called the cops in the first place, apparently won’t be pressing charges against Hale.

However, I was dismayed by the mealy-mouthed "no mea culpa" letter that the Board sent to prosecuting attorney Craig DeCosta. It states, in part:

On the afternoon of January 3, 2008, the Kauai Police Department responded to a request for KPD’s presence to ensure that KKCR’s facilities, which are located on private property, would not be threatened by any activities that might occur as a result of a “call to action” that was planned by some members of the public at KKCR’s facilities.

In the course of events that followed, one of the members of the public, Mr. Hale Mawae, was arrested. The Kekahu Foundation Board of Directors has no knowledge of the events surrounding Mr. Mawae’s arrest, and has no grounds to offer any opinion on that matter. We do, however, strongly disagree with any assertions that have been made to the effect that the Kekahu Foundation’s Board, management or staff had any hand in the events that transpired between Mr. Mawae and the KPD.

Nonetheless, the Kekahu Foundation Board of Directors does recognize that many of the parties who participated in response to the “call to action” may have believed that they were acting in pursuit of the public interest, and that misinformation and miscommunication may have contributed to the misunderstandings on the part of many parties. Therefore, we believe that it would be in the general interest of the entire community for an amicable resolution to be sought in regard to the events that occurred on January 3. To that end, the Kekahu Foundation Board of Directors wishes to inform you that the Board does not desire to pursue any legal actions to which the Kekahu Foundation might be entitled in connection with the events of January 3, 2008.

No, the management and staff played no role in this at all — except for locking the gate to the KKCR facilities — a violation of FCC regulations — and calling the cops to begin with. It was a gross overreaction on their part, and Hale ended up getting burned.

It’s no small matter when you cause someone to be arrested unnecessarily, which in this case also led to Hale being injured, taunted and harassed by the cops, deprived of his personal property, required to post bail and forced to appear in court, where Judge Trudy cited him for contempt and issued a bench warrant for his arrest, even though he was in the courtroom, because he refused to acknowledge the proceedings of the western court and go stand where he was supposed to.

So after jerking Hale around for a while — the Board could have made this go away months ago — they finally say, “oh, never mind,” without an admission of any culpability, much less a long overdue apology to Hale.

Andy goes on to chronicle in great detail the events at KKCR that surrounded last winter’s suspension of programmers and their subsequent reinstatement. I don’t agree with all his assessments, but the letter from the Board makes it quite clear that it’s business as usual at KKCR, where staff member Donna Lewis, who freaked out, locked the gates and called the cops in advance of any threatening action — I mean, come on!! — was merely reassigned to website duties.

And now we’re being urged, during the current pledge drive, to donate money to the station with the promise that members will have the chance to elect three measly representatives to this dysfunctional Board over the next two years. Gee, what a deal. At this pace, long overdue change is gonna be a long time coming.

That said, I'm still going to call in to give some money during Ka`iulani's show. Boycotting the station, as Andy suggests, merely lets the losers take all.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Musings: Superferry Stuffs

What a difference a day can make. Yesterday was bright and sunny, and today I woke to haze and low clouds that rendered the interior mountains invisible.

As Koko and I walked in a world silent save for bird song, a pink-orange orb rose that more closely the moon than the sun, as it was so dimmed by haze that I could stare fully at it.

After luxuriating in the slow vibe of Lanai, it’s taking me a while to gear back up and sort through my numerous emails, many of which dealt with the Superferry.

I was very interested to learn of Friday’s announcement that Admiral Thomas B. Fargo, the former Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command and Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, has taken over John Garibaldi’s role as chairman of Hawaii Superferry.

While Fargo obviously has management experience, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s akamai about running a business that has to make money — a concept totally foreign to the military.

Fargo’s appointment, coming in the wake of the ferry’s truly dismal performance as a commercial vessel, does raise new questions about the military future of the ferry — a point that was also raised in the Star-Bulletin’s coverage yesterday, which included a comment from Kauai’s own Katy Rose (whose name was misspelled).

I found the comments that followed the story especially interesting, as they indicate the polarization caused by the big boat has not subsided a bit.

Meanwhile, Brad Parsons sent out a link to an Austal press release that addressed both the damage suffered by the Alakai and its high-speed performance in Sea State 6 conditions, which is one of the capabilities needed to qualify the design, if not the ship itself, for military service:

During the dry docking process, which was undertaken by a Hawaiian shipyard, the vessel sustained damage after the tug positioning “Alakai” lost power and collided heavily with the catamaran. Further damage was sustained after the local shipyard incorrectly blocked the vessel during drydocking.

Meanwhile, impressive footage of the 107 metre catamaran ferry operating at speed in estimated Sea State 6 conditions off the Hawaiian Islands coastline has appeared on YouTube. Crew onboard at the time reported that the vessel performed very well in the extreme operating conditions.

Constructed at Austal’s American shipyard located in Mobile, Alabama, the 107 metre “Alakai” is the largest high speed vessel ever built in the US — a title which will soon be transferred to the 127 metre trimaran Littoral Combat Ship, LCS-2 “Independence”, currently under construction at Austal USA.

And John Tyler of reports that HSF’s flack team has set up a meeting with Paul of Save Our Seas:

Their reported purpose, to tell Paul what their plans
 are...and both sides listen. Thank you Paul for mentioning this
casually to me, and no inference is made that anything unethical is
happening between our Environmental friends. 

Well, first off, Paul has said this is set up as a one on one
 presentation meeting to him. My take on that is, HSF wants to test the
 waters with Paul, who they likely see as a more receptive target, as SOS
 has taken a less aggressive stance of opposition than many groups, and
 Paul had a decent relationship with HSF Terry O'Halloran before Terry
 went on HSF payroll.

My read on this is HSF is looking to divide and conquer, spin their propaganda onto one or more moderately oriented environmental Kaua'i
 groups, and then hype their new "partnership" or approval by the said
 group in the media. They are clearly going for group leaders who haven't experienced their manipulative deceptions first hand before. 
Then HSF will plow right on in to Kaua'i with full advertising PR 
leading the way.... Kind of like getting their Hawaiian Cultural 
Practitioner to bless the Alakai, and get that same "practitioner" onto
the State's advisory board, but who then misses most of the advisory
 task force's meetings. This is a dog and pony show for Kaua'i environmental groups, but it does
 tip off HSF intent. 

Time to plan defending from phase two of the invasion in the works, 
sooner than later. And please let others in the groups know if HSF has 
been trolling to you too.

One nice thing about blogging is that so many people are following so many different issues that I don't have to be on top of everything, just merely in the loop, sifting the wheat from the chaff.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Musings: Life on Lanai

Got back late last night from three days on Lanai that were blissful in part because the computer was not part of them, and I barely used my cell phone, too. But my pen kept busy taking notes. It’s nice to return to that low-tech world sometimes.

Was interested to see that Hawaiian has moved into Aloha territory in the interisland terminal in Honolulu, using some of their gates, and they’ve greatly increased the number of flights to Kauai. I got in about 10:30 p.m. — we never used to be able to fly that late.

Was struck again by the different style of tourism on Lanai. They get day-trippers who take the ferry over from Lahaina — 45 minutes each way — to golf or hang at Hulopoe beach because it’s not so crowded as the sands of west Maui, and a lot of corporate travel. Most of it comes in on commercial flights, but there was a large private jet parked at the airport.

The shuttle driver told me that Microsoft was bringing in about 500 people next month, and the two big hotels were pretty much booked full through the next couple of months. Most of the tourists don’t rent cars — Castle and Cooke operates a shuttle — and they walk around Lanai City — the only place outside the resorts where you can spend money — to shop and eat, keeping the little business center there fairly busy.

And then you have the hunters. The DLNR guy there told me the state leases about 30,000 acres from Castle and Cooke for hunting, and he issues about 180 to 200 permits each weekend to hunters, most of them Hawaii residents. About 30 percent bag a deer, Mouflon sheep or bird, depending on the season. They don’t have any pigs, and the goats were eradicated a while back because they used to eat the young pineapple plants.

The pineapple is gone, too, and all those fields are now largely overgrown with guinea and molasses grass — with layer upon layer of black plastic buried in the soil beneath, slowly leaching their toxins into the earth and onto the sea. This chemical residue and years of intensive mono-cropping — pineapple is a very heavy feeder — makes it hard to raise animals, or anything else on the land, because even though there’s a lot of grass, it’s depleted and low in nutrients. There’s a lot of potential for ag, though, if they do some soil remediation with cover crops.

Also looked down into Maunalei, one of the sweetest little valleys I’ve seen in Hawaii. It’s deep and narrow, with kukui trees growing in a stream bed totally devoid of water. I wondered what had happened to it, and found out when I happily met up with Kepa Maly, who I worked with years ago in 1000 Friends of Kauai. He’s now sharing his considerable manao with the lucky folks who drop by the delightful Lanai Culture & Heritage Center and is featured in the current issue of Hawaiian Airlines magazine, Hana Hou.

Anyway, Kepa told me Hawaiians used to farm taro in that valley, but the stream that fed the loi was completely diverted to support a sugar plantation that failed in just three years. Such a loss, and it’s the irreplaceable kind, too.

Also visited Keahiakawelo (Garden of the Gods), a surrealistic spot with unique geological features that is one of the most significant traditional landscapes on Lanai. It’s also the place where Castle and Cooke is trying to build a 300 mw wind farm, with the power going to Oahu. Even though Lanai folks pay even higher electric rates than we do, they weren’t going to get any of that juice because the company said it was too expensive to send it over to Lanai City. But no problem transporting it under the channel to Oahu.

Aside from the issue of process — the company is pushing legislation that would exempt alternative energy projects from full regulatory review — the project raises the question of just how much we’re willing to deface and destroy for what could very well turn out to be a failed commercial enterprise. You know, like the sugar plantation that wiped out the fresh water ecosystem in Maunalei. Seems like we’re slow learners, us humans. Or maybe we’re too easily distracted by money.

Although tourism, which is a large part of Lanai’s economy, seems to be perking along pretty well, sales of new luxury second homes have slacked way off, and Castle and Cook, which is developing the housing, laid off about 40 guys just recently. That’s a big deal in that little community, especially because the company rents housing to its workers. So no more job means no more house. If they want to stay on Lanai, they have to either move in with relatives or rent something on the open market, and rentals are both scarce and expensive.

Yes, Lanai is suffering from the same syndrome that’s hit Kauai as outsiders with money move in and displace the locals, who really don't have anyplace else to go. Many of the newcomers and part-timers live in the luxury housing around the resorts, but some are buying places in town, where $400,000 can get you a tiny old termite-ridden plantation house, which is then replaced with something much more lavish.

I was shown what the locals call “Tinkerbell’s castle,” a sprawling two-story monstrosity under construction in a neighborhood of very modest houses that are certainly no larger than 1,200 square feet. Apparently the owners don’t care if they stick out like a sore thumb.

Anyway, it was fascinating to get a closer look at life on Lanai. Each island is so different, yet we share so many of the same issues and concerns. While I love Lanai, with its wide open spaces, friendly people and low-key lifestyle, it's great to be home on beautiful Kauai, and Koko and I were both very glad to be reunited.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Musings: Readers Write

Today is garbage day, so my biggest challenge was keeping Koko out of the mysterious, but decidedly unsavory — at least, to me — juice squeezed from the garbage truck. And then we ran into my neighbor Andy, and his dog, and as we walked along the road together, Koko got all nuts because she was on a leash and couldn’t follow Momi into the bushes after chickens, pigs, cats or what have you.

Somewhere along the way the sun rose and farmer Jerry drove by and waved as Andy and I talked about dogs, the pre-contact life span of Hawaiians, the Jesus myth, over-population and the disconnect between our pre-industrial religions and post-industrial societies. All this before 7 a.m.

Anyway, I’m jamming today, trying to finish stuff that’s due so I can take a three-day trip to Lanai tomorrow (which will keep me away from the blogosphere until Saturday), so I’m letting the readers — and I deeply appreciate all of you — do the writing today.

First, I got an email with this interesting tidbit:

I haven't seen any public announcements of the Superferry's plans to return to Kauai, but a rather unusual source suggests that a June target date may be in the works. From the Class of 1963 Alumni Notes by Correspondent Diane Lum-King Li on p. 53 of the just-received Spring 2008 Punahou Bulletin:

"On O'ahu, Terry White reports that "the Superferry made its first run to Maui, and should be back in Honolulu soon. I am retired and am only with the ferry in spirit, now." A rough reception in Kaua'i, and high winter winds kept the ferry in port for a while. It should be making regular runs between the islands soon, and we can take our cars to Kaua'i in June."

Hmmm. Is this the same Terry White who served as Hawaii Superferry operations vice president? I didn’t know he had retired, but a quick look at the corporate link on the HSF website no longer lists him, so maybe he did.

June, eh? Well, I guess we’ll see about that.

And Katy Rose emailed this follow up to her recent radio interview with Wayne Jenkins, a welder with Austal USA, which made the Superferry:

I just got a call from Swan Cleveland, union organizer for sheetmetal workers local 441, with an update.

Wayne Jenkins, who returns from his vacation Wednesday, has received a notice of suspension from Austal USA "pending further investigation." According to Swan, Austal USA refuses to answer questions about this. UPDATE: " Katy I just found out that Wayne has been terminated form his employment at Austal due to his comments about the Super Ferry." -- 2:37 p.m. EDT email from Swan.

Swan tells me that the launch for superferry 2 will be in September and they would like to organize a big protest at the launch. Labor wants to build coalition with environmental groups. They would like for environmental groups here to make contact with groups there — if you belong to a group with a chapter on the Gulf Coast, please make contact. If you are in a group that has allies in that region, please reach out!

The sheetmetal workers are building up a campaign to launch a congressional hearing on Austal USA and he will be letting us know about how we can get involved in pushing that effort from here.

Swan told me that their attorneys are "pleased as punch" about the connection we made with those guys linking our struggles.

And finally, got word there’s a KIUC meeting today to fill a vacancy caused by the unexpected retirement of a board member. Will be interesting to see if they choose Ben Sullivan of Apollo Kauai, who was just 61 votes shy of winning a seat in the recent election, or someone else who wasn’t on the ballot.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Musings: Corporate Influence

The light was slow in coming this morning, seeing as how it had to push its way through a thick layer of gray that blotted out the stars and moon and capped the mountain tops. But that didn’t stop the birds — and Koko and me — from venturing out into a somber dawn.

Eventually we were rewarded with a smear of goldish-pink that reached out and gave the sky a brief flush of pink, revealing patches of blue and the divergent travels of wind-driven clouds. And then it all faded, and the light returned to a brighter shade of gray.

Ran into my neighbor Andy and we got to talking about gas prices. He mentioned he’s using much less gas these days now that he no longer drives to work. Gee, just think how much we could cut our fuel consumption if everybody retired. :)

As oil prices rises — I filled my tank the other day and paid $4.03 for the mid-grade — the push is on to develop alternative energy sources in Hawaii, which is heavily dependent on imported oil to generate electricity.

And that’s prompted some disturbing legislation, most notably HB 2863, which reportedly was written by Castle and Cooke.

I was interviewing Rep. Mina Morita on another subject this weekend and asked if there were any worrisome bills in the Lege and she said yes, this one. She happens to be lead chair on the House side for this bill, which is being pushed by House Speaker Calvin Say.

As Henry Curtis of Life of the Land wrote in an email:

Castle and Cooke has proposed that DBEDT (Dept. of Business, Economic Development and Transportation) and DBEDT alone should have the power to approve any renewable energy project that claims they will build a 200MW facility, regardless of the size they really will build.

DBEDT can override all state and county agencies, run rough-shot over the public, and fast track the approval so fast that they approve it before the EIS is completed, that is, approve it pending their acceptance of the Final EIS.

Gee, this sounds kind of familiar. Remember how DOT called the shots on the Hawaii Superferry exemption, and then the Lege passed Act 2, which had to meet the approval of the HSF executives, so the boat could run before it finished its EIS?

Henry continues:

All public participation is killed. All public hearings are dead. There is no contested case hearing. There is alleged county approval but DBEDT can override any objection.

Biofuel facilities are included as long as the developer first claims to be building a truly massive facility.

Mina’s thought is that renewable energy projects should go through the same scrutiny as anything else.

"If something like this passes, I see another Superferry fiasco. You’re rushing the process. It’s not transparent. You basically have a superstructure saying it’s good or bad, without other agencies weighing in," Mina said.

Larry Geller of Disappeared News, in a post titled “Speaker Calvin Say reportedly plans to screw the environment with corporate-written amendment” summed it up like this:

Isn't that awful? Castle and Cooke writing our laws and the environment be damned? What happened to democracy in Hawaii???

Well, Larry, I think it hitched a ride on the Superferry.

Anyway, Larry’s got all the info on who to contact if you want to weigh on this latest version of lawmaking following the Superferry precedent.

I wonder if state Auditor Marion Higa will consider scenarios such as these when she drafts her final report on what the Superferry is really costing Hawaii.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Musings: Moonlight Madness

The moon was full at 25 minutes after midnight, so some of us decided to meet at the beach around sunset time yesterday to watch it rise, have a bonfire and pulehu some teriyaki chicken.

I was driving north on Kuhio Highway, with a friend in the passenger seat and Koko on my lap, when all of a sudden, I heard the mad fluttering of wings and felt something feathery brush past my ear. I thought I’d hit a bird, and that the carcass had bllown past me. But then I heard a commotion behind me, looked in the rearview mirror and realized a rooster was running around on the folded down rear seat of my hatchback.

I immediately pulled off the highway, causing my friend to gasp; he thought I’d been hit and we were about to crash into some boulders along the new coastal path. He quickly recovered, jumped out and opened up the back, and the rooster, after some shooing from Koko and me, flew out, much to the amusement of a couple strolling along the path, who had apparently witnessed the whole scene.

“Oh, look, that damn chicken broke your light,” said my friend, and indeed he had — the brake light in the rear window was dangling by its wires. I suppose I could make a claim on my insurance. I do have a few rooster feathers and a small pile of kukae as proof, and since my agent’s on Kauai, I’m sure he’d understand. Or maybe I'll just do the crazy glue/duck tape routine.

We proceeded on to the beach, laughing and talking about the escapade, and when we got to the parking, I heard my friend gasp again. He was looking at the tree carnage that I’ve written about previously.

As we walked down the trail, he let loose with a commentary that in the course of two minutes took him through the classic stages of grief:

Wow, what the f***?

Ho, this is what you was telling me, I nevah see yet.

Wow, they just mowed ‘em.

F***, I’m mad. And they wonder why I like snap, flip out.

Me, I no could work this kine. I’d walk off this job. I’d put down my chainsaw. Let them get someone else for do their dirty work.

Why are we doing this?

What are they thinking?

Is this legal? Can we stop them?

You know, we been putting up with this kine shit for over 40 years and it's just getting more worse. Now you get a glimpse into how I stay.

Well, at least the pohaku can see the sun yet.

And it made me think of how those of us who care about Kauai mourn these kinds of little deaths every day.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Musings: In Search Of

Waialeale wore a crown of clouds, from which only her highest peaks emerged, floating in a sea of pink, when Koko and I took our walk this morning.

The chorus of bird song was so varied and resplendent that I stopped and sat awhile on the bench at the school bus stop just so I could listen. Beneath some trees, I found an empty tiny nest — most likely made by a Japanese white eye — with an ironwood cone woven into one side and a soft bed of ironwood needles for the eggs to rest upon. Such miracles of engineering, and all totally sustainable, without any legislative mandates, studies or pilot projects to guide them. What happened to our own innate knowing?

We were passed at intervals by four pick up trucks with pig dogs in the back, packed in tight under their low-roofed mobile kennels, most of them homemade, and each encounter was an extravaganza of sight, sound and smell that got Koko all excited. At the trail head, a group of orange-shirted men posed for pictures snapped on a cell phone before heading out in search of birds.

Hawaii Superferry will be in desperate search of passengers now that it’s announced it will be operating two trips a day to Maui four afternoons a week, starting May 9.

I loved the optimism (delusion?) expressed by Terry O’Halloran, HSF’s director of business development:

O'Halloran said the company hopes to reach its projected averages of about 400 passengers and 100 vehicles per trip soon. The Alakai can carry 866 people and 282 compact cars.

"That is what we're projecting once we get ramped up," he said. "We're not there yet but the bookings are strong and increasing daily."

When you figure they had just 35 cars and 77 people making the trip from Oahu last Monday, they’ve got a ways to go.

The same could be said for those of us seeking recognition of Hawaii's independence, but I was heartened by “an open letter to the US left from the Hawaiian sovereignty movement” that appeared in The Nation and was distributed by LightLine.

Authored by such independence heavyweights as Ikaika Hussey, Kekuni Blaisdell, Andre Perez, Kelii "Skippy" Ioane and Kauai’s own Kai'opua Fyfe, among others, it spreads a message that is rarely addressed by the mainland media, even in progressive periodicals:

The confluence of two forces -- a massive military expansion in Hawai'i and Congressional legislation [the Akaka bill] that will stymie the Kanaka Maoli [Native Hawaiian] sovereignty movement -- will expand and consolidate the use of Hawai'i for US empire. We are calling on the US left to join our movement opposing these threats and to add our quest for independence as a plank of the broad US left strategy for a nonimperialist America. If you support peace and justice for the United States and the world, please support demilitarization and independence for Hawai'i.”

It’s amazing how few people in Hawaii, much less America and the rest of the world, know the truth about the overthrow, so it’s great to see those who are actually in the movement getting the word out.

While we’re on the topic of getting the word out, Keone Keaaloha and Chris Jaeb of Malama Kauai invited me to be a guest on their KKCR radio show yesterday, along with Juan Wilson of Islandbreath,
to talk about about how to get your message out, especially via digital media.

Afterward, station manager Gwen Palagi came out into the parking lot and introduced herself, and urged me to get involved with news and public affairs programming at the station. I was impressed by her willingness to seek me out, seeing as how I’ve been critical of the station, and I thought it was really nice gesture. So we’ll see. Perhaps I can contribute something to KKCR. Mahalo, Keone, for breaking the ice.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Musings: Where Stay?

The moon, full Sunday, had already set when Koko and I headed out this morning, and the mountains were hulking silhouettes, their detail obscured by the same fine haze that made it possible to look directly at the burnt orange orb of the rising sun.

As Koko and I walked along the road in the soft pink light of dawn, it was impossible not to notice the splayed and flattened bodies of toads and birds scattered everywhere, the uncounted casualties of our love affair with the automobile.

Bees, both the honey and bumble kind, were buzzing all around the fragrant white angels’ trumpets, which always burst into bloom enmasse. Saw farmer Jerry, heading in to prepare for tomorrow’s big garden fair at KCC, and it seems the bees are mad for the pollen in the corn field — non GMO, and organic — that he’s raising as part of a research project at the Wailua experimental center.

Apparently Ray Maki, of Permaculture Kauai, had called him wondering if he had bees, as he wasn’t seeing too many at his place. It’s something we’re hearing a lot of these days: where are all the bees?

The other day on the radio I heard Ka`iulani Huff and Hale Mawae talking about how tourists often ask, where are all the Hawaiians? To which Hale responded: “They’re underneath your house.”

Yes, plenty of Hawaiian bones, or iwi, can be found beneath the vacation rentals, mansions and hotels built along the coast. That is, if they haven’t been carted away to a storage container or reburied someplace else.

Hale, Ka`iulani and others have been camping out in front of property purchased by Joe Brescia in Haena to protest his plans to build a home on top of some 30 burials that have already been dug up. Who knows how many more lie buried in that sandy soil?

I was quite amused to discover, when reviewing testimony submitted for the resolution to get the AG’s opinion about vacation rentals on ag land, a letter that Mr. Brescia had submitted. It was apparently misfiled, as he’d intended it as testimony on another bill, SB 1891 which deals with criminal penalties for misuse of public lands.

His testimony shows just how clueless some of the folks buying up property on Kauai really are. Here we have a guy who has dug up burials and planted vegetation to extend his lot onto the beach — and who lives in a neighborhood rife with illegal vacation rentals on conservation land — urging the Lege “in the strongest terms to set meaningful penalties that will give the enforcement personnel the tools they need to stop the destruction of our State' s precious beach resources.”

He goes on to complain:

The combined forces of uncaring ATV riders and "eco-terrorists" who are removing beach vegetation and lowering dune crests promises to have devastating effects to our beach resources.

Brescia and his ilk don’t seem to understand that they are the ones destroying the dunes by planting them and creating a vegetative barrier that has disrupted the normal flow of sand. Have you been out to Haena lately and seen the erosion they’re causing?

But then, they don’t notice this kind of stuff because this is not really their home and they’re so rarely here. Brescia, in fact, directed the legislative staff to make and distribute 30 copies of his email testimony because he was “overseas on business.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if the Lege really did toughen up enforcement and go after guys like Brescia?

In the meantime, however, the folks who were finally busted by the state for having illegal vacation rentals in the conservation zone are suing the state to have their lucrative rentals reinstated, arguing that since half of Haena is conservation and half isn’t, they should have the same rights as those who live outside the conservation district.

Never mind that they bought the property knowing full well it was in the conservation zone, and that many of those involved in the suit don’t even live here — aside from the Faye family — and in fact, aren’t even individual homeowners, but groups of doctors and other investors who got together to buy these lots.

You gotta wonder, where are their brains? And more important, where are their hearts?

In closing, Andy Parx does a good job on his blog of dissecting the auditor's report on the Superferry exemption, focusing on AG Mark Bennett's questionable role in the process. And Dick Mayer sent a link to a searchable version of the audit with an index.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Musings: Shibai Spotters

The lightning started about 8 last night, flickering in a sky that was hazy enough to hide the stars but no match for a nearing-full moon. Then the thunder rumbled in about 4 a.m., making big cracks and booms that got little Koko trembling, followed by the rain, light at first, then strong and steady, and now back to light.

I love these days most of all, when it’s quiet and still — save for drips and bird songs and the ever-present crowing — and human sounds are almost non-existent. Lulled by this melody, I fell back asleep and had a nightmare that I was driving mauka in cowboy country — maybe it was Upcountry Maui — and four-story condos obscured the mountains and cheesy strip malls with fake Western fronts dotted the landscape and tourists were swimming in covered pools adorned with murals of rodeos.

Yikes. Then I woke up to the phone and was brought back to an uneasy reality, which was reinforced by a 4 a.m. email sent from a friend:

Listening to C-Span. Its enough to make you cry. Our vetrans health care, or should I say "what healthcare". Then you have a MAD MAN, as president, running around with the Pope, thinking that some of the holyness, will rub off on him. And the Pope lives in a "home" that if they had a yard sale, they could care for most of the world. I could go throw up. WE are sheep. They tell us all this crap and we say “Oh, thank you master" And go about our lives with our heads where the sun don't shine.”

Ah yes, politics. Or should I say, shibaiatics. And since we’re on that subject, let’s take a look at the long-awaited state auditors’ report on the Lingle Administration’s decision to exempt Hawaii Superferry from the EIS process.

The crux of it is something that critics of the process — at least, those who support the rule of law — have been saying all along:

"In the end, the state may have compromised its environmental policy in favor of a private company's internal deadline," state auditor Marion Higa concluded. "It remains to be seen whether these decisions will cost the state more than its environmental policy."

What really jumped out at me was the way the performance audit underscored the disingenuous style that seems to characterize the way that HSF, which declined to participate in the audit, does business.

Here was HSF, pushing the state to move things along with a fake deadline for securing the $140 million in federal loan guarantees, when that June 2005 deadline was actually internal and tied to its agreement to pay Austal USA for the ferry construction.

As Maui’s Dick Mayer noted in an email that accompanied a link to the auditor’s report and Advertiser story:

As you read this, keep in mind that the Hawaii Superferry Company prematurely placed its order (Jan. 2004) for the construction of the 2 superferries about 14 months BEFORE they received any exemption from the EIS law.

The Advertiser, while patting itself on the back for coming to the same conclusion as the auditor, reports:

Staff in the department's harbors division had wanted to require a statewide environmental assessment of the project and to get Superferry to install a stern ramp on the vessel to give it more flexibility at Kahului Harbor on Maui. But Superferry executives, according an account by a department staffer, told the state that anything but an exemption was a deal-breaker and that they would not install any ramps.

"Decisions made: We need to pursue EXEMPTION; and HSF will not provide any ramps on vessel," one department staffer told colleagues afterward in an e-mail.

So what’s clear here is that staff members knew the right thing to do and wanted to do it, but HSF bullied them into doing what has proven to be the legally and logistically wrong thing: exempting it from the EIS process and not installing ramps on the vessel for use at Kahului.

What isn’t clear, in either the Advertiser’s crack reporting or the auditor’s report, is why the state was so susceptible to these bullying tactics and who actually made the decision to exempt.

"Current and former department officials and employees who worked on the ferry project were either unable to recall who made the decision at that meeting or chose to invoke executive privilege when asked who directed the team," the auditor found.

But it does seem there’s a bit of covering up going on, and again, one can only wonder, why?

"Ultimately, a decision involving the governor's office was made that directed the 'ferry project team' to pursue scenarios that would exempt the ferry harbor work from environmental review," the auditor found.

There’s still more coming from the auditor's office, and Mike Formby, the department's deputy director of harbors, told the Advertiser the administration wants the opportunity to review the second phase of the audit.

"I think what we wanted to do was reserve the right to see the full report, because it's really risky to look at half the report and respond knowing that they're out there still doing field investigation, interviews, reviewing documents," Formby said. "And basically, they look at the response you gave, and they go out and look for a way to rebut your response."

Or just maybe Lingle and the harbors guys didn’t want to get caught saying something that was later found to be untrue.

Finally, I heard a Westside guy on the radio make a comment yesterday about Pioneer’s claim that the smell that made the Kekaha kids sick wasn’t pesticides sprayed on their fields near the school, but vog.

“If was vog, everybody woulda been all buss up, not just the kids.”

Yes, the people know shibai when they see/hear it.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Musings: Let's Pretend

Gray ghosts drifted across a colorless sky when Koko and I went walking this morning, and it was as if the interior mountains had ceased to exist. And then a patch of hot pink in the east infused color into a world already alive with birds.

Went down to the beach yesterday afternoon, to a windy, wild and roiling sea that swept fast across the reef and allowed me to dip only quickly and cautiously before retreating in the face of all that force and power.

I was thinking it must have been a rough ride on the Superferry. Brad Parsons reports that just 35 cars and 77 people rode from Oahu to Maui and Monday, and 21 cars and one trailer made the return trip. They're really packing 'em in now.

I was busy yesterday afternoon so didn’t get a chance to listen to the KKCR discussion of the previous week’s interview — Disappeared News has a good link to that original broadcast — where Austal workers talked about possible design and construction flaws in the Superferry. So if anyone would like to share the gist of yesterday’s show in comments, please do.

In local news, Nathan Eagle has an interesting report on a resolution in the Lege asking Attorney General Mark Bennett to rule on whether vacation rentals are legal on ag lands. Oh, gee, I wonder how he might rule....

This resolution is yet another example of taking a stalled bill — in this case, HCR 348 — and stripping its contents, then replacing it with new material. And this was done at the request of our own Rep. Roland Sagum, who reportedly told The Garden Island that "many" local farmers had asked for his assistance.

I find this rather intriguing, as much of the farming in Roland’s Westside district is done by the big boys like Syngenta, Kauai Coffee and Gay and Robinson. And it’s even more intriguing because farm bureaus testified against the resolution, which is supported by the Kaua‘i Board of Realtors and others who continue to pretend that vacation rentals are allowed on ag land.

According to the newspaper article:

They say state statutes do not prohibit vacation rentals on ag land and farmers need the supplemental income to survive tough financial times in a declining industry.

I have no doubt that a few farmers could use the extra income from vacation rentals, but a more accurate assessment is that speculators and second-home owners need the income to pay their mortgages. I’ve been doing some research on this issue, and it doesn’t seem the law needs any clarification. It’s quite clear that only farm dwellings are allowed on ag land, although none of the counties are doing anything to enforce that provision in the state law.

Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho got it right when she said:

“We all know that vacation rental use of agricultural lands will drive up the price of land far beyond the ability of farmers to farm such land in an economically feasible way,” she said. “It can be argued that transient vacation rental income might support agricultural activities, but too often the agricultural part is a charade to hide the fact that the vacation rental function is the main function of the property — e.g. a 10,000-square-foot mansion on an ag lot with a few fruit trees or a couple of horses.”

In another example of folks pretending something isn’t what it is, Nathan has a story on yet another mysterious, unidentified chemical smell that made school kids and teachers in Kekaha sick yesterday.

The article reports:

[St. Theresa’s Elementary Principal Mary] Buza-Sims said a Pioneer employee came to the school and said the seed company had sprayed its fields near Kekaha School around 9 a.m., but could not confirm if there was a link.

“Nothing we know of would have caused that,” Steve Lupkes, Pioneer site manager, said yesterday evening. “This morning the weather guy was talking about the vog hitting Kaua‘i.”

Oh yeah, must’ve been the vog.

Hmmm, wonder how those westside vacation rentals and pesticide-induced chemical smells will mix……

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Musings: The Seamy Underbelly

Found another hunting dog this morning, or rather, he found me as Koko and I stood and gazed out at the mountains. He came up to us, all friendly and skinny, with a hunting collar on his neck and a few gashes on his face and legs, so we all walked together to the hunters’ mailbox to see if anybody had posted a missing dog.

No one had, so I left a note in there with his description and was headed back home, with him sharing Koko’s leash, when I ran into my neighbor Andy. Am I doing the right thing? I asked, as it’s always tough to know if you should just leave a hunting dog or call the shelter to come get him.

We agreed he was skinny enough that he looked like he’d been lost a few days, so Andy lent me a leash and I brought him back to my house, fed him and now we’re waiting for the pick up.

Went up to Hanalei last night to pick up my tax returns and got to talking to my accountant about how it didn’t feel so great to be paying taxes so we could kill people in Iraq and he assured my taxes weren’t enough to even buy a big shell, but maybe they’d pay for some Bibles to send over there….

A friend just stopped by to drop off some gardenias and said two undercover cops in a nice new black pick-up truck, unmarked save for county license plates, had dropped a load of riot gear — plexiglass shields and other stuff — at PMRF. Apparently they train in the National Guard building at the base, and also have a firing range on the beach over there, which Bob Sato got some grief for filming.

Anyway, he told me that Mark Begley, the new deputy police chief who had charged that Kauai cops were involved in drug trafficking and was beaten up by two cops a while back, had been in SWAT training and I said, oh, so maybe the cops need the riot gear to protect them from other cops….

Meanwhile, The Garden Island reports today that the Council — or at least, JoAnn Yukimura and Tim Bynum — are continuing to question what Planning Department Ian Costa plans to do with his agency’s proposed $2.48 million budget, seeing as how the department hasn’t been doing much planning.

He [Bynum] noted that few priorities identified in the county’s expensive General Plan, a vision for the entire island, have been implemented since it was completed eight years ago.

JoAnn and Tim also were concerned about possible conflicts of interest within the department after it was revealed that Costa, who is an architect and not a planner, intended to hire a planner who also works for Grove Farm.

Costa said it is never a “conscious decision” to hire planners to work for the county that also work for private developers. 

“To some degree, I rely on professionals being professional,” he said.

Now isn’t that cozy.

While we’re on the topic of Grove Farm, I happened to be talking to a USGS hydrologist yesterday for a story, and he mentioned that GF wants to transport water from the windward side over to Maha`ulepu — you know, the place where they’re doing their “altruisitic ag park.”

He didn’t think it was quite right to start farming at Maha`ulepu at the expense of farmers in Kilauea and Moloaa, which is where the water would come from.

And gee, just think, if the “altruisitic ag park” doesn’t work out, GF will have a water source for resort development in Maha`ulepu. As you may recall, they got approval to use surface water for their Lihue-Hanama`ulu development.

Ah, life on Kauai.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Musings: The Times, They are A-Changin'

It was such a quiet morning when Koko and I went walking that I heard a cardinal taking flight from a utility line, caught the rustle of a gecko jumping off a guardrail and into the brush.

The sun rose and everything turned a dreamy soft pink, including the clouds that were spilling over the summit of Waialeale, drifting lazily along the peaks of Makaleha, massing above the Sleeping Giant. The air, scrubbed clean by last night’s rain, carried the pungent, slightly medicinal scent of eucalyptus, and it was infused with pinkness, too.

Chickens sauntered slowly in front of us, taunting Koko — I swear they know when she’s on a leash — and some of the dog friends we’ve made along our route came over to say good morning. As did my neighbor Andy, although he used words, whereas dogs are all body language.

We walked a ways together and somehow got on the topic of Kauai cops again — I think it started with his comment on the story I wrote about Andrea Brower, and how she has a lot of leadership potential, in part because there’s a sweetness rather than a stridency to her activism, perhaps because she was born and raised here. But other emerging activists were not, and so they have a different style that’s a bit more in your face, which might be why the cops feel like they need protective (aka riot) gear, because some of the new ones aren't originally from here, either.

No doubt about it, both the cops and the protestors — but not the politics — have changed since the days when people demonstrated against the corruption that allowed a hotel (now the Hyatt: correx, I meant Hilton) to be built at Nukolii. And so has Kauai since the time when it had its first traffic light on the cane haul road at Mana and Andy and his friends, on their way up to Kokee or Waimea Canyon, used to slow way down to see if they could get caught at the light.

What a concept. Now that light is no longer functioning because Kekaha Sugar is pau, but we’ve got too many lights to count everyplace else, including a new temporary one at the main entrance to Kilauea, where the traffic has been getting all jammed up since the county started rebuilding the Kolo Road bridge and closed off the town’s second access.

Our new police chief, Darryl Perry, who grew up in Lawai, remembers the old days, too. In our interview last week, he told me of hitchhiking home after basketball practice and waiting sometimes 20 minutes for a car to even drive by the Round Building in Lihue — a scenario that now isn’t even likely in the middle of the night.

But he’s also preparing for the new days, telling me that Kauai is going to get a lot of growth whether we want it or not because it’s so beautiful that lots of people want to live here. And as the infrastructure is upgraded, he said, folks are going to start coming in droves. I didn’t get the sense he especially liked that scenario, but was looking at it from the perspective of needing to move KPD into the 21st Century. And not just with riot/protective gear, but more training and national accreditation intended to reduce the cronyism and corruption that has raised eyebrows among law enforcement agencies throughout the state.

Andy said he remembered testifying against the Kapaa bypass road back in the late 1970s, thinking — as did many of his friends — that a lack of infrastructure would slow development. Instead, he said, the county just went ahead and allowed development without infrastructure.

So now we’ve got what we’ve got: infrastructure that’s pretty much maxed out, a whole new class of people who can afford to live wherever they want, a community that’s torn between grow slow and just grow, a totally ineffective county government and a gorgeous island with a lot of vacant land owned primarily by companies that are already moving into upscale development.

It’s not a stretch to think that clashes are likely as frustration mounts and these opposing forces meet. But Kauai is still a place where the social and political structure is largely based upon relationships. That’s changing, too, but it hasn’t disappeared yet.

Chief Perry has stated he’s committed to openness and transparency, and he wants to communicate with and better serve the public. I feel his intention in this regard is sincere, which is why I think it’s really crucial that all those involved in various progressive movements and organizations take him up on that, and start building direct relationships with the KPD.

Because in the end, that’s going to do more to ensure that both the cops and citizens remain safe than any riot gear and tasers ever could.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Musings: Grab Bag

The sky was gray and darker gray when Koko and I went walking, but the rising sun revealed it to be much more than that, first gilding the towering cumulus in shimmering gold and then tinting a few wisps pink. As more light filled the sky, I saw, in patches, a backdrop of blue, and upon it, puffballs and fish scales in silvery white, and then atop that, roaming bands of charcoal-colored clouds driven by the winds into a pile-up in the southwest, where surely it was raining.

And just as the sky is all mixed up today, here's a grab bag of stuffs for Sunday.

On his blog Hawaii Standard, Ikaika Hussey has followed up on my Friday post about possible shenanigans in the ”ceded lands” settlement bill with an observation that such maneuverings could violate legislative conference rules. He’s got a call in to Rep. Kirk Caldwell, and says he’ll post a follow up if he gets a response.

Hussey also posts a couple of interesting youtube videos, including one about the resistance of Guam women leaders to the American military buildup — did you know that by 2014, the U.S. plans to spend $10 billion to move 8,000 Marines and their 9,000 dependents to Guam, increasing its presence there by more than three-fold? — and another on Ho`i I Ka Pono, “a movement to restore the balance, abundance and sacredness of Molokai,” where the residents have fought off resort development and cruise ships.

Not so Kauai, where we’ve got choke — literally and figuratively — cruise ships coming into Nawiliwili. Got an email from Gary Craft on Thursday night’s meeting between Niumalu residents and Holland America on new technology to “scrub” smokestack emissions. He wrote:

Unfortunately they didn't even discuss/would not respond to changing to a cleaner fuel as an interim measure. We are happy with Holland America obviously rising to the challenge of future inevitable requirements of cleaner emissions from ships but we are still concerned for present conditions in our valley.

Since the so-called “bunker fuel” bill to ease air pollution in the harbor is stalling out at the Lege, citizens are planning direct action instead. Gary writes:

Our next efforts will be directed toward enlightening NCL passengers/clientele as to the impacts of their choice of cruise line by way of an informative picket at the harbor gate. Hopefully this action will exert pressure on NCL and the other cruise lines to switch to cleaner fuel while berthed in Nawiliwili.

Dick Mayer sent along a link to a New York Times article about the threat that speeding ships pose to whales.

And to end on a humorous note, the Garden Island has a letter from Mayor Baptiste defending his new community outreach efforts:

Every appointed person on our cabinet will be motivated to be part of their respective community meetings. After all, we are also members of the communities we live in. We will reach out to you and listen, and together, we will make our communities stronger.

I believe that in order to provide improved services to the public, we must continue to do community outreach. Yes, it is a higher belief. Yes, it is a higher standard. Yes, it is a new way.

It’s a change from “business as usual,” whereby decisionmakers garner public input by determining the date, time and location that is convenient to them and say to the public, “Attend our public hearing; let me know what you think.”

I can’t wait to see how he motivates his appointees to hang with the community. Can you imagine Planning Director Ian Costa going along with this, much less the county attorney? Hee hee Thanks for the laugh, Bryan.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Musings: Food on the Table

Big rain — and Koko — kept me company all night long, and what a wonderful sound it was to hear it pouring down straight and steady, dripping off the eaves, pattering on the taro outside my bedroom window.

The rain had slipped away by morning, although the gold and gray clouds of sunrise offered the prospect of more to come, when Koko and I took our usual walk out into the land of trilling birds, crowing roosters and wind whispering through ironwood trees.

Ran into my neighbor Andy, who cut off our chat to help another neighbor lift her big tire into the back of her pick-up, and when I remarked on his thoughtfulness, he said, well, isn’t that the sort of neighborly thing you’re supposed to do in neighborhoods?

Yes, it is, which is one reason why I like living on Kauai, and in this particular part of it.

We’d been talking about the Kauai Conservation Conference, which we both attended yesterday, although he sat through more of it than I. We both agreed it was alright, and nice to see some people we hadn’t seen in a long time, but it tended to be mostly preaching to the choir, and where were the locals?

Of course, as Andy noted, had more locals come, they probably would have been turned off and left anyway, which led us again to a question neither of us has been able to answer: how do we bridge that widening gap between locals and newcomers, some of whom do have some good information to share, while others are totally off the wall?

That could prove to be a tougher nut to crack than “Can Kauai feed itself?” – the topic of the session I attended. I was curious to learn what Grove Farm, whose VP Neil Tagawa was one of the panelists, had in mind for Maha`ulepu — besides a resort, which wasn’t discussed.

It seems they’ve set aside 1,000 acres — of their 40,000 total on the island – for an ag park, and you might be surprised to learn, because I certainly was, that they’re doing this for “altruistic reasons,” according to Neil.

Yes, that’s right. Oh, you didn’t know that GF has a triple bottom line in everything it does? Economics, of course, are number one, followed by “what’s good for the community and what’s good for the environment.”

Anyway, their altruism is aimed not only at trying to feed Kauai — not everything, mind you, just fruits and some of the veggies — but also meeting one of Neil’s personal goals, which is to have Oahu folks fly to Kauai because we have the “freshest food, the best produce.”

Neil, who admitted he is a "bean counter," and not a farmer, followed that with the observation that one hotel manager had told him that 80 percent of their food costs are linked to transportation expenses, so with rising fuel costs and the weak dollar “we’re going to be in some big trouble real soon.”

Unfortunately, the GF ag park won’t be ready by then, as it’s still in the planning stages and they are going to start with just 300 acres, and first they’ve got to resolve the issue of worker housing, because you just can’t build plantation camps like you used to in the old days.

But no worries, because according to Jillian Seals, who was not on the panel but spoke from the audience, she and her famers-in-training in Kilauea produced 2,000 pounds of food from just 12,000-square-feet of space (she didn’t mention over what time period), so “1,000 acres is more than enough to feed the whole island.”

When panelist Jerry Ornellas noted that while he applauded their efforts, a pound of Manoa lettuce yielded no caloric value, so we need to find ways of producing high calorie carbohydrates, she and Diana LaBedz retorted: according to whose food pyramid, the USDA’s?

This is the kind of stuff that makes me a little nuts. Even the folks I know who have sworn off animal products are still eating legumes, tofu, rice, nuts, soymilk and bread. And none of that is being produced in any quantity on Kauai. It’s great to grow veggies and we could certainly do more of that — as Jerry noted, Kauai had just 200 acres in veggies and melons in 2005 and 800 acres in fruit, a statistic he called “pathetic” — but that ain’t gonna provide the 2,000 calories an average adult needs each day to survive.

And who wants to have GF in control of that 1,000-acre food basket? And if some people think all we need is 1,000 acres to feed ourselves, does that mean go ahead and develop the rest of the island? And what about the tourists who come here and want to eat, too? Come on, let’s get real.

Or as fisherman Jeff Chandler said afterward: "Some of the people in that room, I had to wonder where their heads were at. They have no idea what it takes to get your own food."

The reality is, according to Jerry, that we have 30,000 acres of prime and unique agricultural lands, of which 19,500 are irrigated and just 11,000 are being harvested today. Some 7,000 acres of that is in sugar cane, and another 1,000 acres is in seed corn.

Even if we divided up our biggest food crop, taro, among all the residents, we'd each get just 3 ounces of poi a day.

In fact, no other island in the state of Hawaii has so little land in agriculture. “So much for the Garden Island,” he said.

So what it comes down to is, we’ve got the basics we need to feed ourselves: land and water. But unless we get serious about protecting both, while ensuring that the private landowners who control the bulk of these resources on Kauai have a vision that’s geared more toward producing food than resorts and high-end housing, we’re not even going to come close to putting dinner on the table.

Assuming, of course, that’s even a desirable goal that is shared by a majority of the island’s citizens. And while I am convinced of the former, I am not at all assured of the latter.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Musings: Cracks in the System

A minimalist rain arrived yesterday afternoon and returned at intervals through the night, leaving the air moist and heavy when Koko and I went walking, with the promise of more showers to come.

The air barely stirred at ground level, but the clouds overhead were moving south fast, pouring over the Sleeping Giant, whose northern flank is being heavily grubbed in preparation for — what else? — selling. At least it's being done legally, or so I hear, and by a local family trying to hold on to the bulk of it, rather than the usual off-island speculators.

Ran into my neighbor Andy, who had read last night’s post on the Superferry damage and found it interesting, although he — and someone who left a comment — observed that those interviewed had an to grind. Tis true, although as Andy acknowledged, that doesn’t necessarily mean their information was incorrect.

A friend wrote in an email: “Yes, the SF, has cracks in it, but what did you expect when our system has BIGGER CRACKS.” Tis also true, that.

The prospect of the cracked Superferry taking on water and possibly sinking prompted Rich Hoeppner to call in to the radio show and talk about life rafts. Apparently the vessel carries 10, and “lots of life vests.” I wondered if the crew had been trained in evacuating passengers who are immobilized by seasickness, which seems to be a common state of affairs of the Pukerferry.

I was also left wondering what Hawaii Superferry plans to do with the second ferry, due for completion Sept. 30, according to the Austal USA workers, when it’s not even close to filling the first one and Kawaihae Harbor on the Big Island hasn’t been “upgraded” to handle that kind of vessel.

They’ll start service to Kauai, Andy said, and we both laughed. Yeah, ha ha.

As Koko and I were heading home, the sun struggled valiantly to reveal itself, but ultimately succumbed to the clouds, and I was left marveling, as always, at how such a powerful force is continually subdued by a seemingly insubstantial one.

It gives me hope for the many David vs. Goliath struggles that are under way on the planet, including Hawaiians against the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. Got an email from Andre Perez of Hui Pu alerting folks to the status of the OHA “ceded lands” settlement, which is still alive in the Lege.

He wrote:

It is apparent that OHA has lost sight of the mission and has become the very thing they were supposed to counteract. Now they just shove things down our throats. The difference between "rape" and "consensual sex" is delineated by a simple 2 letter word, that word is "NO" but OHA simply does not listen to the people that are the sole reason for their existence.

They do things in secret, without transparency and without the free, prior, informed consent of the very people they purport to represent. They use "OUR" trust funds to force upon us, things that will affect us and our keiki that we are not in agreement with and when we stand up for our rights and say no, they respond by finding and pimping ignorant self interest kanaka's who will say "YES" to anything just as long as it ensures their place at the trough (we know that game, sorry, I no like play).

However, it must be understood that even though these "YES" people praise and parade around for OHA's agenda, the truth is even THEY were excluded, left out and treated like mushrooms - kept in the dark and fed shit, just as much as anyone else.

OHA is of is out of control, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs has become the "Office of Hawaiian Despair.” It's so bad, some braddahs actually wrote a song about it.

Apparently, according to Andre’s email, HB1201, a bill carried over from last year, is being used as a shell for a settlement bill drafted by OHA: HB1201 HD1 SD1 CD1 PROPOSED.

The email goes on to say:

Rep. Kirk Caldwell is calling for a conference to discuss HB1201 HD1 SD1 CD1 PROPOSED (OHA's Proposed Version) with the intention of removing OHA's proposed language and inserting HB266 HD2 language (Ceded Land Settlement legislation that was held in Senate Committees). There is a lot of back door maneuvering.

Indeed. Yet more evidence of cracks in the system. Anyway, conferees include Sens. Kokubun, Baker, English, Hee, Slom, Tokuda and Hanabusa, and Reps. Ito, Karamatus, Ward and Say, if you want to let them know your views on the subject — or give cracks.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Superferry Damage: Da Inside Scoop

During their show this afternoon on KKCR, Katy Rose and Jimmy Trujillo interviewed three guests who offered some interesting insights into the Superferry, most notably the damage that sent it into drydock early.

Wayne Jenkins, a welder employed by Austal USA, which built the Alakai for Hawaii Superferry, said he “had problems with the way some of the welds were being done on the boat.”

He pointed these out to his supervisors, but was told the welds didn’t need to look good, because they’d be covered with insulation. However, he said, “those little cracks continue to expand.”

When those hairline cracks are subjected to stress, Jenkins said, “they will crack all the way through,” causing leaks, and that’s apparently what happened to the Alakai.

Jenkins said Hawaii workers poured concrete into the cracks to stop the leaks and then continued to operate the ferry for another week before Austal crews were sent over from Mobile, Ala. to work on the Alakai.

He said if the cracks widened sufficiently, they could allow in enough water “to sink the ship.”

Jenkins said he does not think the Austal work crews were in Hawaii long enough “to repair it the way they should. I personally do not think it would be safe enough to ride.”

He also confirmed that the ferry suffered “major damage” to its hull when it fell off the blocks while being placed into drydock. “I don’t think they (Austal work crews) had the right or proper equipment to repair it. They just patched it up the best they could to put it back in the water.”

Jenkins and Swan Cleveland, union organizer for the Sheetmetal workers’ union engaged in the union drive at Austal, said the company allowed “people who are not properly trained” to do welding on the Alakai and its sister ship, now under construction and due for completion Sept. 30.

Jenkins attributed the use of poorly trained workers on the two high speed ferries to Austal’s desire to finish up the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship, which is already over budget at $500 million.

“It seems they’re casting everything aside to complete the navy ship,” he said. “They want those other 55 ships (under the Navy LCS contract) so they’re trying to cut every corner they can.”

Cleveland [correction, it was Jenkins] also confirmed that Austal executives had discussed military uses for both of the high-speed ferries, saying “if the military needed the superferries, they could carry so many tanks and personnel.”

Cleveland further maintained that Austal was engaged in racial discrimination and union-busting tactics, and that a company using such practices should not be involved in building a U.S. warship.

Mahalo, Katy and Jimmy, for tracking those guys down and putting them on the air. Kinda puts the big dailies, with all their resources, to shame.

Musings: Interconnectedness

The sky was filled with wispy, streaky, quilted clouds, all of them gray, save for a few that briefly turned pink and gold in a faltering sunrise, then faded to gray again, when Koko and I took our walk this morning.

It feels like the rain is all pent up and just waiting to bust out, or maybe I’m just projecting….

Anyway, I was yawning large as we walked — can it only be Thursday? — but Koko was as perky as ever. Of course, she gets a lot more sleep than I do, and wisely spends no time in front of the computer.

Which is why she’s back in bed snoozing and I’m perusing the on-line newspapers, something I don’t regularly do, because who wants to get bored, depressed and irritated on a daily basis? But every now and then I check in and catch up.

First, I learned from reading my neighbor’s Garden Island (it wasn’t posted in the on-line edition) that the House killed the GMO taro research moratorium bill. Once again, the lege caves to pressure by the biotech industry.

Both the Star-Bulletin and Honolulu Advertser featured front-page coverage of the Associated Press story on the General Accounting Office’s probe into the Western Pacific Fisheries Council.

It was a bit surprising that neither of the dailies had their own reporters on a big local story like this, but at least they ran the AP version, which reports:

The Government Accountability Office plans to investigate whether the federal advisory body responsible for protecting fisheries off Hawai'i and other parts of the Pacific is properly using and accounting for government money.

The comments from Peter Young, former director of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and a member of the Wespac Council, spoke volumes. Young told AP he had to file a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain copies of the council's budget and meeting minutes from recent years because the council wouldn't give him the documents.

"Things like budget and minutes of meetings are the types of things that every member of the public expects a government agency to provide without hesitation," Young said. "It has been frustrating and I'm hopeful that we can get a clear understanding of how federal money is being spent."

The state finally had its big “ah ha” moment — everything really is connected! — with the delayed revelation that the Aloha Airlines shutdown is likely to have an unpleasant rippling effect on the local economy.

According to an article in today’s Star-Bulletin:

“Hawaii's economic growth could fall to zero and its jobless rate could rise by nearly a percentage point as a result of Aloha Airlines' decision to stop flying.”

And that’s not even factoring in how higher fuel prices might equate to pricier airline tickets, which could further dampen travel, and thus tourism. Nor does it delve into how the steadily rising costs of gas, electricity and food are likely to stymie discretionary spending by residents — at least among those of us who work for a living.

A portent of things to come was found in the comments section that followed the Star-Bulletin story, where Ainokea4u wrote:

More belt tightening coming....

replace the pulehu steak with spam.

replace the shoyu poki with sardine.

replace the poi with pork and beans...weenies optional.

life in hawaii is on a budget...with all these jobs being lost...what next? more homeless shelters built? when does the state say "enough is enough" and when do they start to take care of it's own? soon the only one's owning land will be foreigners. in 30 years there will be no true full blooded hawaiians left.

all because we neva take care of the little things.

As another example of our interconnectedness, farmer Jerry forwarded a New York Times article that explores how the ethanol corn craze and rising fuel and commodity prices are playing out on the mainland.

It seems farmers are pulling land — much of it marginal, sloped, wooded, prone to erosion or near streams — out of federally subsidized conservation programs in order to take advantage of higher prices for corn, soybeans and wheat. Some 35 million acres are at stake.

The article provided a fascinating look at how things turn ugly fast the minute the going gets rough:

Environmental and hunting groups are warning that years of progress could soon be lost, particularly with the native prairie in the Upper Midwest. But a broad coalition of baking, poultry, snack food, ethanol and livestock groups say bigger harvests are a more important priority than habitats for waterfowl and other wildlife. They want the government to ease restrictions on the preserved land, which would encourage many more farmers to think beyond conservation.

“We’re in a crisis here. Do we want to eat, or do we want to worry about the birds?” asked JR Paterakis, a Baltimore baker who said he was so distressed at a meeting last month with Edward T. Schafer, the agriculture secretary, that he stood up and started speaking “vehemently.”

Among farmers, the notion of early releases from conservation contracts is prompting sharp disagreement and even anger. The American Soybean Association is in favor. “We need more food,” said John Hoffman, the association’s president.

The National Association of Wheat Growers is against, saying it believes “in the sanctity of contracts.” It does not want more crops to be grown, because commodity prices might go down.

That is something many of its members say they cannot afford, even with wheat at a robust $9 a bushel. Their own costs have increased, with diesel fuel and fertilizer up sharply. “It would decrease my profit margin, which is slim,” said Jeff Krehbiel of Hydro, Okla. “Let’s hurt the farmer in order to shut the bakers up, is that what we’re saying?”

Randy Schuring, a dairy farmer with 200 acres in the program, said there was no possible solution that would make everyone happy.

“If the government lets the land out and then crop prices fall, that’s going to hurt a lot of farmers,” said Mr. Schuring, whose farm is in Andover, S.D. “If it doesn’t let the land out and prices keep going up, that will hurt a lot of consumers. If only we had a crystal ball.”

Ah, yes. If only.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Musings: Throw Their Butts in Jail

When I first awoke, lightning flashed through the darkness, and a rat — finally caught — rustled in the cage, waiting for the executioner.

That taken care of (sigh), Koko and I went walking in a world where the sky was heavy, gray and low. Makaleha and Waialeale were ghost mountains — visible, although obscured by a fine, white mist that could be seen, but barely felt.

Ran into my neighbor Andy, unrecognizable at first because he was in his truck, looking for his daughter’s missing dog — oh, how I feel for all of them — and then farmer Jerry, who said he had picked up the slightest whiff of sulfur in the air. “Pele’s breath,” he called it, and though I sniffed deeply, all I got was the fragrance of spider lilies, angel’s trumpet and warm, wet pavement.

“It’s going to rain,” Jerry predicted as he drove away, and I thought of Ka`iulani Huff, who is occupying the beach at Ha`ena Point where Joe Brescia wants to build a house on top of burials. I’ve heard figures ranging from 31 to 38 sets of iwi kupuna, but whichever, it’s plenty. They are predominantly women and children, and some date from the 13th Century.

Talked to my friend Ka`imi yesterday, and he and some of the North Shore boyz had stopped in to check on Ka`iulani, whom he said is getting good support. Other folks have pitched tents there, too, he said, “making like one little village.” Ka`iulani has taken some flack for her passionate stances on various issues, but I gotta admire the way she walks her talk. Wonder how the state and county are going to deal with this one…..

[Update; Just heard from Ka`iu, and the villagers could use fruit, veggies and ice, if anyone wants to donate. You can access the beach near YMVA Camp Naue.]

Of course, Brescia — and his attorney, Walton Hong — could always do the right thing and bag their construction plans, just like Pierce Brosnan and his attorneys — Max Graham and Teri Tico among them — could do the right thing and give Cathy Ham Young some clean, cold water for her taro patch. Maybe Joe and Pierce don’t know better, but their hired guns sure do. Unfortunately, money often wreaks havoc on values.

That reminds me of something else that came up in my interview with Police Chief Darryl Perry. He said he’s committed to running a department that treats everyone fairly, and isn’t influenced by political or big money interests. That was music to my ears, as I’ve known of at least two very wealthy residents who apparently bought influence with the department through “gifts.” As a result, one of them got away with assaulting me after we had an altercation over the runoff from his property onto the beach.

On a related topic, I was sent a link to a Maui News editorial that spoke to state Land Board President Cynthia Thielen’s support for legislation — HB 3176, HB 3177 and HB 3178 — that imposes stiffer penalties for those who “violate public property.”

In other words, people who cut down trees to improve their views, plant vegetation on the beaches to expand their lots, grade state land or destroy coral won’t get their wrists slapped with the current measly little $500 fines. The new legislation, the bills would impose maximum fines of $10,000 for such offenses.

It’s a good start, but as the editorial — entitled “No mercy for violators” — observes, it doesn’t go far enough:

Thielen thinks the heavier fines will deter abuse of public property. The larger amounts will help but will not be enough to be a real deterrent. With property going for millions, $10,000 is chump change. A real deterrent would be jail time or fines large enough to hurt even a millionaire.

The measures have been approved in separate forms by the state House and Senate so they will be subject to conference committee action later.

It's hard to imagine anyone objecting to really clobbering someone who destroys — for whatever reason — what belongs to all of us. The DLNR bills — and even harsher penalties than proposed — should be a legislative slam dunk.

Forget the fines. These guys are used to buying their way out of everything. I like the idea of jail time for the jerks who don’t give a rat’s ass about the land or other people. Let them wear the orange jump suits and hang out with da boyz serving time for smoking ice and ripping off rental cars. It could be their one and only exposure to local culture.

Finally, there’s a 7 p.m. meeting tonight at the Kapaa Neighborhood Center to discuss a proposed charter amendment for the November ballot that would move the responsibility for tourist accommodation building permits from an appointed Planning Commission to the elected County Council.

The rationale presented by the Coalition for Responsible Government is that the Council should make such decisions because it oversees the General Plan and is responsible for funding of infrastructure improvements.

It’s an interesting concept, and just might have some merit — if you have a Council that is responsive to the public and doesn’t put development before infrastructure. However, we’re still waiting for such a panel to be elected.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Musings: Smoldering Sentiments

Jupiter was all that was left of the night when Koko and I went walking this morning under a sky that was more clear than clouds. Waialeale, hidden for days, stood revealed in all her glory, with just a few wisps that lifted before the sun rose, sending v-shaped shafts of pink and gold light up into the heavens, as mist floated in distant pastures.

Ran into Andy on the road, and we talked briefly about the planning commission, because I’d run into our mutual friend Jimmy Nishida, who serves on that panel, yesterday.

Jimmy was saying what planner Keith Nitta told me before he retired: that nobody expected Kauai would go this way, attracting super rich investors with a penchant for mansions on the beach and agricultural estates. And the county is moving slowly, if at all, to close loopholes in the laws and change earlier planning processes that make it possible for much of this growth to happen.

It seems even the failing and flailing U.S. economy won’t save us. Jimmy said a new batch of condos on Maui, with the lowest priced at $800,000, sold quickly to European investors lured by the weak dollar.

I think a lot of people are alarmed by this trend, which is not only changing the landscape, but the social fabric of our island, turning it into a place of haves and have nots, where the haves don’t want much to do with anybody else. Jimmy said even some of the planning commissioners who represented business interests are freaked out by the type and pace of development that Kauai is seeing.

So what will come of that smoldering sentiment?

Some are worried it might flare up, even blow up, into public demonstrations that could turn into confrontations with the police, and our new chief, Darryl Perry, whom I interviewed yesterday — and liked — is one of them.

I questioned him about the request to purchase what the The Garden Island called “riot gear,” and what Perry termed “safety and protective gear,” asking why he thought such equipment was needed on Kauai, or if this was part of a national trend toward beefing up police forces.

His answer:

”This is partly in response to changing times. We’re not that sleepy old Kauai we were before. There is a group of people on this island who hold very definite views about how the island should be and they are determined to demonstrate and be very vocal about those views. If, in the future, they become more aggressive toward police officers and other people, we want to make sure we’re prepared. Preparation is the key. I don’t like to think of it as riot gear but safety or protective gear to keep our officers and innocent bystanders safe.

I don’t like the word riot. It speaks of mayhem and people out of control. This is protective, for the safety of our officers and bystanders. And globally, if we look at terrorism, it’s moved to the U.S. and we just have to be prepared. We’re not an exception to the rules.”

It really struck me that the cops are afraid of the citizens, at least when the citizens are pissed off and enmasse. On the one hand, that’s the purpose of a demonstration — to exert the will of the public. But on the other, do we really want to have show downs with the cops? Is that Kauai-style, any more than cops taking us on?

I’ve had some bad encounters with a few Kauai cops over the years, but I’ve never wished them any harm. Well, maybe one or two or three individuals, but not the whole force, and certainly not over development or political issues. The politicians and decision-makers, not the cops, are the ones who should feel that particular wrath.

The Superferry protests were effective in turning back the boat, which is now languishing on its own. Brad Parsons reported that just 12 cars took the ferry from Oahu to Maui yesterday, its first day back in service, and only 15 vehicles made the return trip.

And the Maui News today reported on widespread seasickness, including this quote:

"It was one of the most miserable rides I’ve ever had,” said Kim Lane of Seattle.

With publicity and numbers like that, th Superferry won’t last long.

But there will be another issue – there are ongoing issues – and we as a community need to decide whether they’ll be best addressed fighting with cops in the street, or through the political process. In truth, I'm not convinced either approach is effective. So then the question becomes, what is?