Sunday, January 16, 2011

Musings: Gravely Disappointing

Brief flashes of lightning broke through the darkness of a pre-dawn made even darker by clouds, and when it finally grew light enough to see, the bruised sky of another approaching storm was visible in the southwest. Scarlet streaks smeared the Giant when the dogs and I went walking, but the sun declined to make an appearance, preferring instead to hunker down beneath the swath of gray that rode the horizon.

Meanwhile, giant surf is forecast for the northwest shores, with accompanying predictions of flooding and major coastal erosion, which raises the perennial question of whether visitors staying in all those beachfront vacation rentals will get an even better view of the ocean than was promised in the ads.

In an effort to give passengers a better view of Hali`i Falls, Inter-Island Helicopters is seeking a county permit to land and conduct a tour there. But as The Garden Island reports today, the company’s claim to be a good neighbor rings false with the salt-makers adjacent to the Burns Field heliport:

During salt season, which lasts for three months, Inter-Island is asked not to fly over the salt patches because it spreads dust over the ponds, [Ku`ulei] Santos said.

“They continue to do it every single time,” she said. “They run their helicopters 20 to 25 minutes. All the dust, everything, it affects us, it affects what we do.”

What I found especially interesting was the admission — finally! — by a tour helicopter company — scourge of the skies — that its operations are a nuisance, and that its actions are solely dictated by money, despite its self-serving claims to the contrary:

[Pilot Luca] Rostagno said his reason for the request is “primarily to be responsible with the local community.” He said by adding waterfall landings to the tours, the number of flights would be less since the helicopters would be tied up for an hour at the falls, thus reducing noise pollution generated by the helicopters.

[Owner Robin] Venuti said his reason to request the permits was “absolutely financial,” but it would also be beneficial to the island because the noise would be reduced.

But what’s really rich is that even as these guys are disrupting the ancient practice of salt-making, they’re claiming they’ll spiff up the native flora at Kilohana Crater and educate folks about the value of the place. Ummm hmmmm.

I was going to write, “let’s hope the Planning Commission doesn’t bite,” but why set ourselves up for disappointment?

Because, ya know, I was hoping William Aila, the new director of the Department of Land and Natural Resources would be different, especially in regard to protecting burials. Instead, I was disappointed to read that he signed the programmatic agreement that will allow the Honolulu rail project to proceed without conducting an archaeological survey of the entire route.

As I wrote in a Honolulu Weekly cover story last year, the Oahu Island Burial Council is vehemently opposed to that approach:

Kawika McKeague, chairman of the Oahu Island Burial Council (OIBC), is not a psychic. But he and other preservationists say they can see the future of the city’s $5.3 billion elevated rail project, and to them, it looks something like this:

The city will build the line from West Oahu to downtown, where it will start finding large concentrations of Hawaiian burials. The city, citing the billions already invested to get to that point, will then pressure the Burial Council to relocate the iwi kupuna, or allow construction atop the bones. If Council members resist, they’ll be vilified as anti-development obstructionists and blamed for delaying — perhaps even derailing — the project and adding greatly to its cost. If they go along, they’ll be vilified as cultural sell-outs who set burial protection back to square one. The result, in any case, will be controversy, animosity, great sorrow and angst.

What’s really unfortunate, aside from Aila’s troubling stance, is how it sanctions the equally troubling and increasingly common practice of allowing projects to move forward before their impact on ancient burial sites is fully assessed.

I was also disturbed to read that Aila sanctioned a “preservation council” created by former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hanneman, which Burial Council members saw as a direct attempt to undermine their own power. As the Star-Advertiser reported, in a story whose headlines described the burials as “problematic” and parroted the city’s stance that the process would protect graves:

Aila said, "There are a number of mitigation measures to ensure that rail does not erase the diverse history of this corridor, including the creation of a preservation council to educate land and building owners around the route on the importance of historic preservation."

Ironically, preservationists feared that Mufi Hannemann’s election would ensure the state’s sign off on the programmatic agreement. Yet here it is happening under Abercrombie and Aila. Auwe! Apparently the rail project is just too big to stop or slow, no matter who is sitting in the governor’s chair or the BLNR director’s seat.

It’s just another reminder that government will never be the source of significant progressive change.


Anonymous said...

NO rail, no concrete, no jobs, no union votes...
meetings, consultation and consensus, is the why a multi cultural society works through the issues.

Anonymous said...

Note to Joan:

"government will never be the source of significant progressive change"

your proposed optimism lasted how many days into the new year?

never, say never.

Anonymous said...

Fact of island life:
Burials can be encountered at any time there is construction going on.
How you respectfully deal with them is the debate.
Few citizens would demand that they be left in place while the 21 st century thunders over them.

Anonymous said...

It's so disappointing Aila is keeping Pua Aiu and Coochie Cayan at SHPD.

Anonymous said...

They are the only ones who know whats going on!
With out them everything would grind to a halt.