Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Musings: Speculation and Unconsciousness

It’s only a week past solstice and already it’s noticeably darker in the mornings, which is why the sky was filled with stars when Koko, Paele and I went out walking in the delightful coolness. The moon had not yet risen, but Jupiter was high and bright, third in a celestial line up with Neptune, Uranus and Mars, which I could not discern, and Venus, still below the horizon.

The fighting roosters were lost in their usual chorus of crowing, but above the din I heard the wheezing call of a single Newell’s shearwater, and thought of the time, and surely there was one, when they were so numerous that their calls would have rivaled today’s roosters in raucousness.

How sad that their endemic voices have been replaced by the speculation and unconsciousness that a common fighting rooster farm symbolizes. But then, so goes Hawaii….

While we’re on the subject of speculation, I received an email yesterday that included links to two stories about Free Flow Power’s President and Chief Financial Officer, Henry Dormitzer. One, a three-year-old piece from the Belmont Citizen-Herald, reported that the former UBS investment banker, who went on to become a top aide to Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, helped to design risky debt refinancing deals for the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority that went sour.

The other, published last year on reported:

The same bankers who sold Massachusetts interest-rate swaps that blew up the debt financing for the so-called Big Dig road and tunnel project in Boston -- costing taxpayers $100 million -- are getting even more money to fix what they broke.

“Use of these types of derivatives is making a bet,” said Joseph Giglio, a business professor at Northeastern University in Boston and former head of municipal securities at Chase Manhattan Bank. “If it seems too good to be true, it is.”

Reading the articles made me think back to the KKCR show I heard where Scott Mijares was questioning KIUC board member Jan TenBruggencate about whether the cooperative had vetted Free Flow before approving the multi-million-dollar consulting contract. Jan’s reply:

“I believe our staff did, but I don’t know.”

While we’re on the topic of unconsciousness, I noticed The Garden Island today is reporting news that I broke on April 12: deputy county attorney and former deputy prosecutor Justin Kollar is running for prosecutor.

What’s worrisome about Justin is his regressive, as in Dark Ages, platform:

If elected, he said he will work to protect Kaua‘i’s ohana by focusing on quality life issues that effect families and their homes, including drunk driving, drug abuse and property crime tied to those addictions.

Yes, more criminalization of addicts and users is exactly what we need. Keep locking up the little fish and let the sharks swim free. And nothing builds an ohana like sending an addicted family member off to jail. Justin, as you may recall, has also been fighting reforms of the medical marijuana laws.

The article includes praise, but not quite an endorsement, from Police Chief Darryl Perry, which speaks as much to the strained relations between the cop shop and PA's office as it does to the merits of Kollar’s candidacy.

But even with Perry and former prosecutor Craig De Costa in his corner, as well as other attorneys who just can’t handle what they characterize as the “out of control” state of the PA’s office, Justin, with just three years on the island, faces a tough fight against well-connected local girl Shaylene Carvalho-Iseri.

What it all boils down to is once again, we lucky voters on Kauai will be asked in 2012 to choose the lesser of two evils. But then, so goes Hawaii. And when you look at the people lining up for the GOP nomination in the race against the ever-disappointing Obama, and the other “leaders” on the global stage, so, it seems, goes the rest of the nation, the rest of the world.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Musings: Gold Diggers Part II

In a hellish scenario, an intense wildfire is approaching 30,000 55-gallon drums of plutonium-contaminated waste stored in fabric tents at the Los Alamos Nuclear Weapons Lab.

Meanwhile, Japan reveals that 15 metric tons of radioactive water leaked into the ground outside its crippled plant, even as it prepares to issue dosimeters to thousands of children after abnormally high radiation readings were taken in Fukushima City.

Against that backdrop of nuclear power and weaponry gone horribly awry, we return to KIUC’s decision to pursue “clean, green” hydro energy via Free Flow Power and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

In yesterday’s post, I expressed some of my concerns about Free Flow’s business practices and the company’s alliance with our cooperative. Today I’m going to look at some other issues, including the FERC process, consultation and cost.

KIUC officials continually tell us that we’re not “locked into FERC” with these preliminary permits. Yet after looking at the permits already granted for the Makaweli River, the Hanalei River and the Wailua River projects, it’s quite clear that the entire preliminary permit process is geared toward seeking a FERC license.

The three permits all contain the same language in the terms and conditions section:

The purpose of the permit is to maintain priority of application for a license during the term of the permit while the permittee conducts investigations and secures data necessary to determine the feasibility of the proposed project and, if the project is found to be feasible, prepares an acceptable application for license.

If the goal is not to pursue a FERC license, why even start the process? Indeed, FERC expects its applicants to move toward a license, as outlined in the Wailua River permit:

10. During the course of the permit, the Commission expects that the permittee will carry out prefiling consultation and study development leading to the possible development of a license application. The prefiling process begins with preparation of a Notice of Intent (NOI) and Pre-Application Document (PAD) pursuant to sections 5.5 and 5.6 of the Commission’s regulations.9 The permittee must use the Integrated Licensing Process unless the Commission grants a request to use an alternative process (Alternative or Traditional Licensing Process).

Interestingly, even though KIUC has promoted FERC and FFP as the quickest way to get hydro, FFP itself contended in an April 29, 2011 letter to FERC that “the pre-filing requirements of FERC's Integrated Licensing Process take more time to complete than the three years of an initial preliminary permit.”

And given that FFP has dozens, if not hundreds, of permits and applications in the works, how much time will it be able to devote to its client across the Pacific?

In granting the three Kauai permits, FERC acknowledged the public concerns associated with the various proposed projects — concerns that were raised, in some cases, more than six months ago, which certainly should have alerted KIUC Board members to the critical need for a community outreach effort. Yet as FERC noted:

The issues raised in the comments are premature at the permit stage, but can properly be addressed in the licensing process.

In other words, so far as FERC is concerned, the public participation part doesn’t begin in earnest until the licensing process is under way.

The Hanalei permit notes that “cultural and socioeconomic issues can be addressed in the licensing process” before going on to state:

Potential development applicants are required to consult with appropriate state and federal resource agencies and affected Indian tribes, conduct all reasonable studies requested by the agencies, and solicit comments on the applications before they are filed.

Sounds good, but to those of us who followed the debacle of the Brescia burial treatment plan, which ultimately was approved by a state agency even though it was rejected by the Kauai-Niihau Island Burial Council, it’s clear that people have very different ideas about just what the word “consult” means.

It’s also unclear, despite KIUC’s assurances to the contrary, if FFP is truly motivated to consult with the community. In reviewing the boilerplate language in its Hanalei River and Makaweli River project permit applications, “informal stakeholder consultation discussions” are not scheduled until at least the second year of the three-year permit term — after the hydrologic and geologic studies, information review, preliminary engineering and design and feasibility analysis are pau.

The applications raise other red flags. I mean, just how akamai can these supposedly crackerjack consultants be if they failed to note that Hanalei is a federally designated heritage river? Or listed LaFrance Arbodela-Kapaka, who has been dead for years, as the chair of the Burial Council, when a simple web search would shown otherwise?

And finally, there’s the issue of cost. In its permitted applications, FFP states, “The studies will be financed by the applicant.” No mention is made of KIUC. For each project, FFP estimates the cost of doing all the first-year studies — the feasibility stuff — at $100,000. The rest of the work — consultations, developing a notice of intent and pre-application document, and beginning scoping activities — is estimated to “not exceed $500,000."

So even if FFP were to take all six projects all the way up to the license application, it would cost no more than $3.6 million. KIUC won’t tell us exactly what we’re paying, but KIUC attorney David Proudfoot told us at the June 4 community meeting that FFP will be paid “several million dollars if none go past the first stage.”

Several is defined as “more than two or three but not many.” So it sounds like we’re paying close to, if not more than, the full estimated price for bringing all six projects through the first stage, even though KIUC CEO David Bissell and some Board members have acknowledged that some of the projects will never get off the ground.

On top of that, FFP will get an incentive for delivering completed projects.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Musings: Gold Diggers

Stars, not often seen in the cloudy weather of late, were out, and a thin gold wedge of moon cupping a dark whole that seemed smaller than the crescent, when the dogs and I ventured into the damp cool of 5 a.m. The waning moon was encircled by a halo and straggling well behind the determined bright glow of Jupiter, whereas yesterday they had been companionably aligned.

I've been wondering just how companionably KIUC and FFP are aligned, and after spending time yesterday looking at documents on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) website and following some other leads, I wanted to share some niggling concerns about their union, starting with the way the two companies got together.

KIUC keeps saying it has to use the FERC process to keep a for-profit developer from jumping in front and building the hydro projects before it does. But actually, FFP had already done the “poaching” by filing its applications for hydro projects on Kauai waterways prior to entering into a contract with KIUC.

As I reported in ”Kauai’s Hydro Battle” for the current issue of Honolulu Weekly:

Thus began KIUC’s clumsy foray into hydroelectric development under a federal process that allows investors to stake a claim, gold rush-style, on rivers and irrigation ditches. The utility actually followed the lead of Free Flow Power (FFP), a Massachusetts-based consortium of consultants and investors that filed the [FERC] permit applications that created a community uproar.

To stake its own claim, KIUC purchased the shell companies that FFP formed to file six applications on waterways from Hanalei to Kekaha. FERC has already approved three, giving KIUC preliminary permits that carry the exclusive right to study hydroelectric development for three years. [KIUC CEO] Bissell said no specific price was placed on the applications, which were purchased as part of a larger consulting contract. The utility has refused to disclose the full value of the contract, which includes an incentive for delivering completed projects, but KIUC attorney David Proudfoot said FFP will be paid “several million dollars if none go past the first stage.”

FERC-issued preliminary permits are non-transferable, so to gain control over them, KIUC purchased the companies (see comments section for names that hold them. What’s odd is that KIUC apparently negotiated a contract that requires it to relinquish the permits if the contract is pulled. This is spelled out under “your no vote means” in the “KIUC guide for hydropower voters:

The contracts with FFP will be terminated, and all preliminary permits will revert back to FFP. This will make progress on hydro in the near term very difficult and more expensive, and more than $325,000 in contractual obligations will be due to FFP.

In other words, since FFP has those waterways locked up for the next three years, KIUC either has to play ball with FFP, or sit on its hands until the permits expire. FFP also could seek an extension of its permits.

So even though KIUC goes on and on about the stellar qualifications of the firm, it appears the circumstances that led to their union were more akin to a shotgun wedding than a love match. What’s more, it seems that “grab 'em with both hands” is FFP’s standard MO.

I noticed, as I was looking through pending applications on the FERC website, that FFP and its competitor, Northland Power Mississippi River LLC, had filed an inordinate number of hydro applications in the southern states. That prompted some Google searching, which led me to this report on

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission announced proposed plans to refuse to issue additional preliminary permits for hydrokinetic projects on the lower Mississippi River between Cairo, Ill., and the Gulf of Mexico.

Director Jeff Wright of FERC's Office of Energy Projects announced the proposal in an April 1 show cause letter to Free Flow Power Corp. and Northland Power Mississippi River LLC. Between them the two developers hold, or have applied for, preliminary permits for 141 project sites covering all but a few miles of the 850-mile reach of the river.

"Given the number and scope of these permit applications, and the fact that it appears unlikely, as a pragmatic matter, that either applicant will be able to develop and file license applications for more than a small percentage of these sites during the preliminary permit term, commission staff is concerned that the Federal Power Act's goal of promoting competition in the comprehensive development of the nation's waterways would not be furthered by issuing to two applicants such a large number of permits covering such an expansive portion of a single river," Wright wrote.

"Therefore, the commission staff intends to decline to issue additional permits on this stretch of river, and instead allow potential developers to advance their projects through the commission's licensing process."

FERC noted Free Flow Power or its subsidiaries recently applied for permits at 105 sites on the Mississippi, in addition to 24 active permits they already hold on the Mississippi. Meanwhile, it said, Northland Power has applied for 40 permits on the reach, 28 competing with Free Flow applications, plus another 12 new sites.

It also seems to be SOP for FFP to file for permits without doing any community outreach, just as happened here. One such situation occurred in Ohio, where residents objected to the “secretive approach” that Julian Griggs Dam Water Power Project LLC (JGDWPP), a subsidiary of FFP, used to apply for a preliminary permit to study the feasibility of hydro at Griggs Dam.

According to a report on the Friends of the Scioto River website (hat tip to Ken Taylor):

Griggs Dam is owned by the City of Columbus, and operated by the Department of Public Utilities, Division of Water and Power. An inquiry sent to Maintenance Manager Larry Krall brought this response:

"Reply from my administration
'City is aware of this application and of other applications for this site and another City owned dam, and it is our understanding that there are several, mostly newly formed, companies mining state dam inventories and filing permit applications for any dam they think might be capable of supporting a hydroelectric facility. Although these companies can file for permits without the owner's knowledge or consent no facilities can be built without the owner's consent, and at this time the City has no plans to develop or allow the development of hydroelectric plants at any more of its dams.'

Which all seems to add more credence to the comment that FERC opponent Adam Asquith made when I interviewed him in May:

“Free Flow Power (FFP) has never done any hydro development. They came from a big bank, looking for an investment. They sailed their pirate ship to treasure island, where we have all these nice rivers and the highest utility rates in the nation, and ran into David Bissell, who said, ‘we were gonna do that. We’ll pay the ransom. Can we hire you to dig up the rest of the treasure?’

I’ll have more on some of my concerns about FFP and its contract with KIUC in other posts this week.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Musings: Odds & Ends

Just a few odds and ends for the end of the week….

First, the former Hawaii Superferry and its twin are for sale. Looks like even the military doesn’t want them now:

From the Hawaii OEQC Environmental Notice Page 13

Maritime Administration Offer for Public Sale of Two High Speed Vessels
The Maritime Administration of the U. S. Department of Transportation is offering for public sale, on an „„as is, where is‟‟ basis, two fast ferry vessels, ALAKAI, Official Number 1182234, and HUAKAI, Official Number 1215902. Bids may be submitted on or before 5 p.m. July 20, 2011. For additional details, please contact Mr. David Heller, Office of Shipyards and Marine Engineering, Maritime Administration, 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE, Washington, DC 20590. Telephone: (202) 366–1850; or e-mail Copies of this notice may also be obtained from that office. An electronic copy of this document may be downloaded from the Federal Register’s home page at: and the Government Printing Office‟s database at: (see, 76 FR 35942, June 20, 2011

As Dick Mayer notes in an email:

This notice is coming out the same week as the Bloomberg News article detailing the extensive "aluminum corrosion" on the simarly built, and even more recent, US Navy Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) also built at the same Austal shipyard in Mobile, Alabama.

Here’s a link to the Intermediate Court of Appeals decision that upheld the manslaughter charges against Jimmy Pflueger, which means his trial will proceed. He’s charged in the 2006 deaths of seven people following the breach of Kaloko Dam. As you can see, the wheels of justice turn slowly, and since Pflueger is reportedly now 85, it raises the question of whether he’ll live to see himself vindicated or convicted.

And AFP is reporting that supposedly “genetically modified” marijuana is a growing (not sure if the pun was intended or not) problem in Columbia.

I’m also not sure the reporter's use of genetically modified is correct, as it’s unclear what material, exactly, has been inserted into the genetic sequence of the plant to "enhance" it. I think the reporter may have meant hybrid.

Anyway, it again makes the point that because marijuana is illegal, farmers in Columbia can earn more money growing cannabis than coffee and food crops. The Army, meanwhile, is claiming that the sales support FARC guerrilla forces. Maybe they learned that trick from the Reagan Administration, which used cocaine sales to finance the contras after Congress cut off funding.

The article also noted:

The hemp plant was originally legally used in the production of textiles and soccer balls until 1962, when authorities banned the use of marijauana [sic] in those products in order to comply with international standards.

So sad to see a plant useful in so many ways relegated to illegality and obscurity because of fear and ignorance.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Musings: FERC & The Path

First, here’s a link to the piece I wrote about the fight over FERC for the current edition of Honolulu Weekly. I hope it will provide readers with an overview of this complicated issue. I’m not quite sure where they come up with the graphic for the proposed Wailua dam, which KIUC vows is not going to happen, but here is a link to the issue’s cover art.

Moving on to another topic….

To some, it sounded like a great idea, the concept of building a “lei” of concrete around the island and calling it the Path. But unlike a lei, which is put together as a continuous strand, the Path is being built in segments, prompting some of us to ask, and keep asking, what is the big picture here, what is the overall environmental and cultural impact, and how much is it going to cost, both to build and maintain, especially with coastal erosion on the increase?

But not even the County Council is getting that information in a timely fashion. That’s why last year it approved — with only Councilman Mel Rapozo dissenting — the $100,000 purchase of a strip of land fronting the Kapaa Sands condos, only to learn now that it will cost another $338,500 to relocate a propane tank and trash bins, erect a six-foot fence, extend the parking lot by two feet, and put in some landscaping and signs in that section of the Path.

The estimate seems padded, which apparently is why the administration is questioning some costs and the contractor reportedly is willing to negotiate.

Still, if one believes the account published in The Garden Island, which is always a gamble, something in the process has gone haywire, with public works claiming it’s a parks and rec thing and Council Chair Jay Furfaro saying “we’ve got an oversight problem.”

But didn’t the mayor hire Tommy Contrades to oversee all Capital Improvement Projects precisely to ensure they’re carried out in an efficient, cost-effective and timely manner, with one person providing accountability and oversight?

And when are the Council and administration going to come clean about what the county really is in for with The Path project? Recreation is grand, but just how much do taxpayers really want to spend so that tourists and eastsiders have a strip of concrete upon which to cruise?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Musings: Twists and Turns

When the dogs and I first went out, the world was ethereal, wet, silent, Jupiter nearly as bright and high as a moon on the fat side of half. As we walked, more was revealed: wisps, streaks, wide ribbons in undulating patterns, like waves, bumpy mounds, puffballs. And then the dawn came, turning the black clouds mauka dusty pink and the sky in the east shades of orange, yellow, red, so that I was treated to a riot of shapes and color every which way I turned.

Co-op member unhappiness about KIUC’s foray into hydro via Free Flow Power, FERC and a special election challenging the Free Flow contract has taken an interesting turn, with Scott Mijares now circulating a petition that, to use his words, “gives our members the opportunity to object to the manner in which KIUC's management and board have conducted this vote.”

The petition calls on the Board of Directors to submit to the general membership for a vote its Resolution 05-11, which approved the language of the ballot and associated materials sent out to members, as well as the timeline for the election.

The petition preamble makes references to “stacking the deck” and “an illegitimate election process” while expressing dismay at the Board’s decision to “schedule the vote for the earliest possible date, thus severely limiting the time available for the membership to become informed.”

All of which raises the very good question of why, oh why, didn’t KIUC head off this skirmish by handling the election in a more fair, above-board, inclusive manner, especially since it was already on the hot seat for the perception, real or otherwise, that it had failed to be inclusive and above board with the members when it choose the FERC road to hydro?

Meanwhile, much has been said about where Bill Tam stands on this issue. He’s currently the deputy director of the state Commission on Water Resource and Management, and is familiar with the FERC process from his former tenure in the state Attorney General’s office when it opposed FERC jurisdiction over three proposed hydro projects on Kauai.

The Garden Island acknowledges that it hasn’t been able to get a comment from Tam, but it doesn’t reveal the reason: one of its reporters apparently used Google research to pull a quote from a years-old speech he gave, and Tam wasn’t too pleased.

I was able to get some clarification from Tam for my Honolulu Weekly article, which comes out today. And KIUC Board Member Jan TenBruggencate went over to Honolulu for a face-to-face with Tam last week, which resulted in today’s TGI “news" article entitled “KIUC clarifies its position:”

“There is nothing KIUC is doing that violates state policy on its approach to FERC,” said Jan TenBruggencate, a member of KIUC’s Board of Directors. “Clearly the state doesn’t want utilities in the state of Hawai‘i to use the FERC process to license hydro plants. Clearly we know that, and clearly we are not licensing any hydro plants.”

He added that it is his understanding that the state does not oppose the use of preliminary permits to scope projects. It opposes the licensing, something for which KIUC has not applied.

So I asked Tam, who previously told me he’d taken no stand on the FERC permits, if that was a correct statement of his position and got this email in response:

Hypothetical situations have been considered under certain assumptions, but no resolution has been reached.

And I can’t help but wonder, if the state supposedly doesn't oppose the use of preliminary permits to scope hydro projects, why have two state agencies — the Agribusiness Development Corp. and Department of Hawaiian Home Lands — already filed formal motions to intervene?

Clearly, they're alarmed about something.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Musings: Goin' Down

It rained in the night, long and hard, a welcome blessing for today’s summer solstice, which I greeted in my usual way: in reverence to the world and the fat white moon that this morning shone down upon it. The pavement, still wet, crisscrossed by snails and their tracks, littered with toad carcasses and, oddly, a dried and flattened manini, shone pink as the sun touched the clouds. It’s the longest day of the year, though imperceptibly so from yesterday, and from here on the dawn will arrive later.

As the dogs and I headed out for our walk, I noticed the kabocha pumpkin seeds, planted at the full moon, had sprouted. It’s so satisfying to see new life emerge from the soil.

But even as people embrace life by having kids and starting gardens, we’re killing the oceans at an alarmingly fast rate, according to a summary of a new report stemming from a study sponsored by the International Program on the State of the Ocean. The study was unique, because it looked at the whole bleak picture. Here’s what researchers determined:

This examination of synergistic threats leads to the conclusion that we have underestimated the overall risks and that the whole of marine degradation is greater than the sum of its parts and that the degradation is now happening at a faster rate than predicted.

Indeed, many of the changes — and they’re caused by human activities — “are already matching those predicted under the ‘worst case scenarios.’” As a result, this is compounding other problems, including changes in the distribution and abundance of marine species, changes in the distribution of harmful algal blooms, increases in health hazards in the ocean and the loss of both large, long-lived and small fish species. This, in turn, destabilizes food webs and makes marine ecosystems less resilient to the effects of climate change.

You know, ye olde domino effect.

The scientists also determined:

The magnitude of the cumulative impacts on the ocean is greater than previously understood; timelines for action are shrinking; resilience of the ocean to climate change impacts is severely compromised by the other stessors from human activities, including fisheries, pollution and habitat destruction; ecosystem collapse is occurring as a result of both current and emerging stressors; and the extinction threat to marine species is rapidly increasing.

In short: “we now face losing marine species and entire marine ecosystems, such as coral reefs, within a single generation.” Indeed, we’re seeing the same “multiple high intensity stressors [that have] been a pre-requisite for all the five global extinction events of the past 600 million years.”

While it’s looking pretty grim, all is not lost. They make a number of recommendations, including dramatic reductions in CO2 emissions, strictly regulating fisheries, stopping or strictly regulating extraction of oil and minerals, and controlling sewage and ag waste runoff.

But most dramatic of all is their recommendation to follow the precautionary principle “by reversing the burden of proof so activities proceed only if they are shown not to harm the ocean singly or in combination with other activities.” That alone would be such a dramatic paradigm shift for the industrial world.

It’s not the sort of thing that anyone wants to hear, least of all our government, which has reneged on a promise to reinstall solar panels on the roof of the White House and is busy launching a graphic new ad campaign aimed at scaring people so much they stop smoking. Because, ya know, we wouldn't want anyone to get cancer.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports, government regulators and industry have been weakening the standards for the commercial nuclear power generators so the aging plants can keep “operating within the rules.” In the process:

Radioactive tritium has leaked from three-quarters of U.S. commercial nuclear power sites, often into groundwater from corroded, buried piping, an Associated Press investigation shows.

The number and severity of the leaks has been escalating, even as federal regulators extend the licenses of more and more reactors across the nation.

Leaks from at least 37 of those facilities contained concentrations exceeding the federal drinking water standard—sometimes at hundreds of times the limit.

Any exposure to radioactivity, no matter how slight, boosts cancer risk, according to the National Academy of Sciences.

The tritium leaks also have spurred doubts among independent engineers about the reliability of emergency safety systems at the 104 nuclear reactors situated on the 65 sites.

That's partly because some of the leaky underground pipes carry water meant to cool a reactor in an emergency shutdown and to prevent a meltdown.

But hey, it’s summer time, and the living is easy, so I don’t want to leave you in a state of total despair. At times like this, I like to remember a saying attributed to “Native American wisdom:”

Give thanks for unknown blessings already on their way.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Musings: Baffling Behavior

I keep wondering, is KIUC devious, deluded, incompetent or just completely and utterly dense?

I mean, first, it commits the incredible blunder of starting off on the road to hydro development — or, as it insists, the study of its feasibility — without consulting any of the key players. Yet even as the brouhaha brewed, a majority of the Board did not feel a community outreach plan was needed. Result: intense, broad-based opposition, a feeling of being shut out, and formal requests for intervention filed by the County, state Department of Hawaiian Homelands, East Kauai Water Users Cooperative and state Agricultural Development Corp.

In the process, KIUC also knocked aside Pacific Light and Power, a local company already working with the Westside community on a small hydro project there. Result: more opposition, bad feelings, polarization.

Then KIUC tried to convince us that none of the alarming projects outlined in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) permits that it purchased from Free Flow Power were actually going to happen. Or, at least, probably not. Or not any time soon, anyway. Result: mass confusion, suspicion, disbelief.

Confronted with a petition that required it to have a public meeting about its Free Flow contract, it responded by skirting the issue at hand — concerns about the FERC process — and instead reframed it as pro- vs. anti-hydro. Then it limited speakers to three minutes while its officers droned on. Worse, it put attorney David Proudfoot and Board President Phil Tacbian, neither of whom could conceal their contempt, on the dais. Result: anger, frustration, skepticism, more opposition.

Pressed to explain why it chose FERC, it claimed, disingenuously, that the process was required for the Wailua River project, and possibly Hanalei, then upped the ante by saying that if the members didn’t want FERC, they wouldn’t get any hydro at all. Result: anger, confusion, a sense of being bullied, blackmailed, backed into a corner.

Charged with conducting a member vote on the Free Flow Contract, KIUC refused to allow petitioners to draft a statement for the voter guide, and instead sent out its totally biased version of the “pro” and “con” argument. Adding insult to injury, CEO David Bissell actually described it as “fair and balanced,” even though it greatly simplifies and overstates certain points and completely ignores the most important topic, FERC. Result: polarization, frustration, anger, mistrust, confusion, a sense of being shut out.

Finally, as bitter icing on the cake, it’s spending an unknown, though certainly not small, amount of our money to launch an advertising campaign to convince us to vote yes. Result: disappointment, outrage, and a feeling that KIUC has absolutely no sense of ethics or fair play. Even The Garden Island, which has run many a KIUC press release verbatim, ran an editorial yesterday dinging the utility’s leadership for “overstepping its bounds” and “misrepresenting the facts” in the campaign.

So we’ve got KIUC creating, or at least, contributing to, the community’s confusion, opposition, polarization, anger, frustration, distrust and sense of being shut out, even as it’s spending our money to convince us to trust it because it has chosen a process that is clear, transparent, inclusive, efficient, effective and intended to save us money.

In closely following this issue, and KIUC’s baffling behavior in shaping it, I keep returning to my original question: is the utility devious, deluded, incompetent or just completely and utterly dense?

I guess the answer doesn't really matter. Because in any case, it doesn’t bode well for a smooth journey toward the development of community-supported hydroelectric.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Musings: Nuclear Error

The heading-into-solstice dawn light came early, earlier than I wanted to rise on this Sunday morning, but when it began to exude color, I couldn’t resist, and the dogs and I went out walking beneath a breathtaking expanse of orange gold, with a few red streaks on the eastern edge for good measure.

Is it actually possible for us to adopt measures to keep nuclear power plants safe from the natural events that we can’t predict and/or control, like the tsunami that took out Japan’s Fukushima plant? Or the flooding that now threatens two plants in Nebraska, reminding us that so many American nuke plants are built on major rivers and coastlines. As Global Research notes:

While hindsight might be 20/20, the lack of foresight can be blindingly deadly when it comes to radioactive waste that lasts tens of thousands of years for the measly prize of 40 years of electricity.

As we’ve seen in Japan, once radioactive materials are released, they can’t be retrieved, creating all kinds of new nightmares. Like the way they apparently “flowed into sewage pipes with rainwater and were condensed during sewage treatment,” creating radioactive sewage sludge, according to a report on

Japan burns its sludge to create ash that’s used in cement, so who knows how much radioactive material has been released into the air, and thus inhaled by the populace, in the process. With the contaminated sludge and ash building up, Japan’s government created standards for how much radioactivity should be allowed in the waste before it’s recycled or stored. But in this regard, they’re traveling in uncharted waters:

"No-one had expected such high levels of radioactivity in sewage sludge," says radioactive waste expert Akio Koyama.

"This material must be stabilised and solidified before it can be safely disposed of, otherwise radioactive material will seep into groundwater. The problem is we've never had to deal with something like this before," he says.

Meanwhile, as BBC reported yesterday, efforts to clean up contaminated water at the site have been halted because of a rapid rise in radiation levels:

The contaminated water, enough to fill 40 Olympic-sized swimming pools, has been at risk of spilling into the sea.

It is the rainy season in Japan and the pools of contaminated water could overflow, adding to radiation already released into the sea, adds our correspondent.

And that’s not the whole of it. As Britain’s Daily Mail reports:

The Japanese are now struggling to understand how their government could mislead them about the nuclear meltdown that followed the tsunami.

TEPCO was able to control information through the age-old system of Press Clubs, where the government provides information to selected media.

Food shopping has also become a problem. Shops have started mixing vegetables from different prefectures as customers are now selecting food based on where it is grown.

In an attempt to reassure the nation, the Japanese Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, visted Fukushima last month where he cheerfully ate locally grown cherries and tomatoes in front of the news cameras. As he spoke, bulldozers were removing the top soil from Fukushima school playgrounds due to high radiation levels.

A survey by Fuji Television Network last month found that 81 per cent of the public no longer trusts any government information about radiation.

A similar distrust is brewing in America, which explains the interest in sites like Radiation Network, a grassroots effort to monitor environmental radiation that is updated in real time every minute. It recently added a page that shows the levels in Hawaii and Alaska, too.

So far, so good, in terms of we're well below the "alert level." Still, as we know, what affects one part of the world affects us all. And with Japan facing one radiation-related crisis after another, it's not like we're gonna escape unscathed.

Yet as Dr. Ihor Basko astutely noted yesterday on his always outstanding KKCR radio show, “Pets, People & Paradise,” after playing a “musical meditative moment” dedicated to Japan that featured a disturbing composition by Kintaro: “And people here are all wrapped up in what the County Council and mayor are doing...”

Friday, June 17, 2011

Musings: War Party

The day began with a shower. Not for me, but the `aina, delaying our walk for a bit as I petted the dogs and listened to the rain fall from the sky and then from the leaves, allowing a delightful transition from sleep to full wakefulness.

When we went out, the sky was turning a faint pink and the air was perfumed with the fragrance of puakenikeni from my neighbor’s tree. Wispy white tendrils drifted over the jagged emerald peaks of Makaleha, parting occasionally to reveal a waterfall. The world was full of sound: crowing roosters, cooing doves, warbling shama thrushes, drips, drops and splatters, two flocks of honking nene.

It’s hard to think about war in a peaceful time and bucolic place like this, but today marks the 40th anniversary of the day that President Nixon launched the “war on drugs” with his vow to keep spending money to eradicate “America’s public enemy number one.”

In the four decades years since he identified a new enemy to distract people from the ruins of his presidency, we’ve spent $1 trillion on a war that even its warriors say is lost.

Of course, that’s not the only war that’s sucking us dry. Interestingly, just as we mark one legacy of the Nixon era, Congress is fighting with Obama over another: the War Powers Resolution, which was passed in response to the crook’s actions in Vietnam.

Just two days ago, a George Washington University Law School professor and some of his students filed suit against Obama on behalf of a bipartisan group of 10 members of Congress who claim the President violated the Resolution and Constitution by waging war on Libya without Congressional approval.

Obama claims it’s not a “war” because we haven’t sent ground troops or engaged in sustained fighting. But it sure feels like a war, what with its cost of $10 million a day and drone attacks that deal death and destruction.

Ironically, the same President who vowed to end the wars that Bush started, but has since mired us in another, also promised to end the wars on drugs. Yet as a report from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition shows, he’s done the opposite:

The “latest available federal data shows that drug arrests during President Obama's first year in office are up compared to those during the first year of President Bush's administration.”

“Despite President Obama's clear -- and politically popular -- statement that we have to think more about drugs as a public-health problem,' his administration's budgets request funding for punishment at a much higher level than for treatment and prevention.”

“If the president really thinks we need to move away from punitive, war-like approaches to the health issue of drug abuse, why, for example, did his first drug control budget with his new drug czar in place (FY 2011) include a 13% increase in anti-drug spending for the Department of Defense, an 18% increase in the Bureau of Prisons drug control funds and a 34% percent decrease in support for anti-drug programs under the Department of Education, as compared to President Bush's budget from FY 2009?”

“Despite reassurances that a cash-strapped federal government would not waste its limited resources attacking legitimate, state-approved medical marijuana providers, the rate of raids on those compassion centers has actually increased during this administration.”

So it’s clear that Obama, like so many before him, says one thing to get elected, then does another once he’s in power. Meanwhile, the people of the nations we’re occupying and bombing continue to suffer, the drug-related carnage in Mexico has reached horrific levels and, as Time magazine reports, the war on drugs has created “unhealthy side effects” for Americans:

Today, we have 2.3 million prisoners: 743 people per 100,000 in the population. The U.S. has 5% of the world's population, but 25% of its prisoners.

This is coupled with racist enforcement policies:

The rate of incarceration for drug crimes is 10 times higher in blacks than in whites, even though drug use and dealing rates are the same or even higher for whites.

More African Americans today are under criminal justice supervision — in prison, on parole or probation — than were enslaved 10 years before the Civil War, according to Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. And more than 10% of black men between the ages of 20 and 35 are in prison, which keeps them from their families and children.

President Jimmy Carter caught the drift, as he writes in an op-ed piece in today’s New York Times:

In a message to Congress in 1977, I said the country should decriminalize the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, with a full program of treatment for addicts. I also cautioned against filling our prisons with young people who were no threat to society, and summarized by saying: “Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself.”

These ideas were widely accepted at the time. But in the 1980s President Ronald Reagan and Congress began to shift from balanced drug policies, including the treatment and rehabilitation of addicts, toward futile efforts to control drug imports from foreign countries.

Whether it’s waged against drugs, Al Qaeda or the Taliban, war is not an effective strategy for reducing a perceived threat. But it does wonders for boosting the bottom line of military contractors and the prison complex.

Must we endure another 40 years of needless pain, suffering and waste before we see the light?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Musings: Battered and Bruised

The moon, full today, and eclipsing, had snuggled under its blanket of fleece in the west, but the sun had not yet risen, when the dogs and I went out walking. Clouds — gray, white, yellow; anvil-shaped, towers, swirls — were moving fast, traveling to a rain-in over the mountains. And sure enough, just as the sky turned shell pink in the east I saw the tell-tale signs of black fringe over Waialeale, the sheer white of a squall, beneath a mauka sky that had assumed the purplish color of a bruise.

Our local newspaper today published a photo of a man displaying some scrapes on his back, though none of the bruises one might expect if he’d been pummeled by three men and thrown off a cliff at Lepeuli (Larsen’s) Beach, as he claims — and his alleged perpetrator, Bruce Laymon, denies — in the accompanying article.

The photos were circulated via email a number of weeks ago, shortly after Laymon erected a fence that blocked an unauthorized, though popular, trail to one of the few truly wild beaches remaining on the windward side. The man’s claims sounded bogus when I first read them, and the photos he provided did nothing to bolster his case. But that’s pretty much par for the course in the dispute over Lepeuli, which has been characterized by wild accusations, ugly rumors, deliberate deceptions and some widely disparate perceptions of facts and reality.

The last time I wrote about this issue, a certain rabid blogger who has never actually walked any of the trails in question, or even been to that beach in 30 years, accused me of “sleeping with the enemy.” His post was republished by an aggregator, who sent me an email chiding me for breaking progressive lockstep with the snippy comment: “My point is, we would do better to present a united front, or at least a helping hand on issues like access and the enviroment [sic].”

Hey, I’m all for access and the environment, which is why I daily take advantage of the former to enjoy the latter. But I get a little bit hung up on the “united front” bit when it means spreading bullshit or burying the truth to bolster the cause of folks who, in their fight to retain one particular trail, have so lost sight of reality that they define the people who provided us with access as “the enemy.” And in the process, they foolishly undermined their objective by completely alienating those who could give them what they want.

Because the fact of the matter is that without Waioli, we wouldn’t have any easy access to Lepeuli. To provide a little historical context, let me quote a Feb. 7, 2011 letter from Ralph Daehler, the former state forester and Waioli board member who was instrumental in that process:

Waioli Corporation President Richard H. Sloggett, Sr. and Director Barnes Riznik were approached in the latter 1970s with a request by the County of Kauai to consider negotiating toward the establishment of a public access route across Waoli land [which Elsie and Mabel Wilcox purchased in 1935 to generate income for support of the Waioli Mission House] to Lepeuli Beach.

As a committee the three of us met with a representative of Kauai County. It was explained to us that the county was working towards establishing a series of shoreline access routes in the northeast area of Kauai County. We were shown a map with about 5 other proposed routes and were told that the county was in active negotiations with the other land owners.

The proposal included the conditions that if the negotiations were successful the county would: (A) Fence and maintain the road access portion, and, (B) Accomplish the construction development work on the foot trail portion and thereafter maintain it.

Despite some reservations, Waioli gave the county three acres of land for a road to a trailhead, as well as a path, which Daehler designed, to the beach. The alignment he chose “was routed to provide for an interesting and easy walking grade (after necessary construction development work to be accomplished by the county),” according to his letter.

I remember wishing that the land was state land so that I [could] put the State Division of Forestry and Wildlife field crew on the task of its development. I had no involvement nor request for involvement after the project was turned over to the county.

The county, as we all know, never did develop the trail. It also failed to fence the road access portion and record the easement, which Waioli finally did at its own expense. But the late Mayor Bryan Baptiste did threaten to sic the Health Department on Waioli if it didn’t deal with the illegal campers along the beach, and the county recently asked Waioli for a new easement to ensure continued access, which it was given.

Yet that didn’t stop ignorant people from excoriating Waioli — a nonprofit kama`aina corporation that runs Grove Farm Homestead museum and allows public use of the park in downtown Hanalei — as an evil, rich, off-island, greedy corporation hell bent on preventing public access when it moved to close off another, unauthorized trail across its land.

“There was never much of a thank you for providing access to these open places,” Waioli executive director Bob Schleck observed wryly. “To some people it’s been the notion of a thankless entitlement.”

Waioli hasn’t handled the situation faultlessly; hiring Laymon was probably its biggest mistake, though there aren’t that many guys out there who know how to run cattle — one way to keep the land in active ag — and are willing to run off illegal campers. And some of the opponents are to be applauded, most notably the Sierra Club, which stymied Bruce’s plans to run a fence parallel to the beach, and the Sproat family, which has focused on the cultural issue of an ala loa, or traditional coastal trail.

But I’ve really been dismayed by the actions and rhetoric of people who are doing the wrong thing for what I’m sure they believe is the right reason. Because not only have they wrongly smeared Waioli — “it cost Waioli’s reputation,” Schleck said — their antics would certainly give any coastal landowner now in a position to provide access pause.

As Daehler noted at the end of his letter:

Just one more thought. After Waioli Corporation had finalized its negotiations with the county I asked the county representative in charge of the northeast Kauai right-of-way program how many of the other five or so land owners he was dealing with negotiated to provide right-of-ways to the county. His answer was — “None of them were interested.”

Waioli Corporation should be commended and appreciated for going out of its way in doing its part years ago.

Not surprisingly, after being battered and bruised, Waioli isn't in such a giving state of mind these days. I recall the aforementioned rabid blogger criticizing me for not wanting to join him in digging up the "real" — read devious — reason why Waioli wouldn't simply sign over more acres of oceanfront land for access. His self-centered view is typical of others who can't understand that yes, it really is as simple as hurt feelings — "the kindness is missing in all this," Schleck said. Or as the old sayings go, "once burned, twice shy," and "don't look a gift horse in the mouth."

I recently asked Schleck if Waioli would be willing to reopen the lateral access, he said, "I would never say never." Encouraged, I asked if Waioli would be willing to deed over the trail, which many call the ala loa, that runs parallel to the beach, or perhaps put it into a temporary conservation easement that the Kauai Public Land Trust could manage, thus allowing public use.

He hesitated, noting the Board had considered such a possibility, then replied: "If they want the ala loa, fine. But give us back our access, and people can walk the ala loa all the way from Moloaa if they want to get to Lepeuli."

And my oh my, wouldn't folks scream then.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Musings: Bad Decisions

Clouds mottled the light from the big moon, confusing the roosters into thinking they were crickets and so should crow all night, but because there are so many they create a pleasant sort of white noise, like the rushing sea. It was to this sound that the dogs and I awoke and went to watch the beginning of the day.

It started out as a streak of pale, and then came the color. Pink puffballs floated across a backdrop of gray and blue, which became butterscotch as the horizon caught fire. The Giant turned rusty in the glow, fine white fringe draped itself over the blue summit of Waialeale and Makaleha was under siege from an advancing mass of black.

And through this splendor marched that incredibly ugly line of tall power poles strung with numerous lines, creating what Earthjustice attorney David Henkin so aptly described as a an “aerial drift net” indiscriminately killing birds in a critical Newell’s shearwater flyway.

But hey, we can trust KIUC, which had to be indicted by the feds and sued twice by conservationists before it finally cleaned up its act with protected birds, to do the right thing as it pursues hydro under the guidance of its mainland consultants, Free Flow Power.

Because, as KIUC Board member Ben Sullivan says, in a 50-minute KIUC spin-a-thon posted on For Kauai by Hawaii Stream, “we’re accountable to you.”

You know, Ben, I really want to believe that elected officials are accountable first and foremost to the voters. After all, isn’t that the cornerstone of a democracy? But in the real world of politics, I’ve seen politicians at the county, state and federal level blow off the public and make incredibly bad decisions, yet keep getting re-elected. So my faith is kinda shaky.

Which brings me to a resolution that the County Council, despite what The Garden Island reported, has not yet passed, but is apparently poised to approve tomorrow.

I’m not exactly sure why the Council decided to delve into a topic that seems outside its purview — the controversial practice of trapping and neutering feral cats, and then returning them to the wild. But since it has, members now bear the responsibility of making a good decision when they cast their votes on whether to endorse a resolution that supports the TNR program “as a component of a humane approach to controlling Kauai’s homeless and feral cat population.”

On the surface, it does seem like a good thing. Most people feel sorry for the wild cats and their tragic lives, and no one likes the idea of asking the folks at the Humane Society to kill more animals. I know they’re not keen on it, either.

But it defies common sense, especially for a county that just last year faced federal charges and fines for illegally taking protected birds, to support wild cat colonies in areas known to be inhabited by endangered water birds and protected migratory seabirds.

Even when federal wildlife biologist Michael Mitchell flat out warned the Council that ““TNR practices likely violates the Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act because a TNR colony here on Kauai will most likely result in the direct take of protected species, whether it be a Hawaiian duck, Newell’s shearwater, or one of the other five species of federally threatened or endangered ground nesting birds found on Kauai,” there was resistance.

Councilman Tim Bynum, certainly no authority, countered that he didn’t think TNR was a problem, while Kauai Ferals founder Margaret Sueoka, fired from the county attorney’s office, uttered what every cat owner, including Councilman Dickie Chang, knows to be a lie: a cat that is fed daily has no desire to roam at night for food.

Mitchell went on to tell the Council that the program would be “counterproductive” to protecting endangered species, and that necropsies had found native birds in the stomachs of wild cats. It's pretty clear. Native birds and feral cats don’t mix.

Yet currently the Kauai Humane Society, which receives substantial funding from the county, is supporting a TNR program at the Marriott, which has so many species of endangered birds that special training was required for contractors working at the adjacent Kauai Lagoons.

There’s also the very real problem of the cats transmitting toxoplasmosis, which reportedly caused the death of two endangered monk seals. Yet KHS is supporting a TNR program at Larsen’s (Lepeuli), which is frequented by mother seals and their pups and most certainly would have nesting shearwaters and albatrosses if they weren’t being killed by feral cats and pet dogs. (Yet surprisingly, there’s no outcry from the supposed defenders of that beach.)

KHS also supports a TNR program at Lydgate, another place that certainly should have wedgetail shearwaters, because I’ve heard them beneath the condos on the north side of the Wailua River. It’s got another one at PMRF, where albatross try to nest, but the navy won’t let them, and at the Safeway shopping center, which abuts wetlands where I have seen gallinule and other endangered water birds.

So aside from the question of whether the Council could really be so dense as to lend its support to a program that is getting a thumbs down from the feds, there’s the issue of how KHS can legitimately accept money from the county and KIUC to protect Newell’s shearwaters even as it’s supporting the feral cats kill them.

I understand why KHS likes TNR. It's supposedly cheaper and definitely less disturbing than euthanasia, and it’s touted as “saving animals,” which encourages people to donate money.

Problem is, while they’re saving cats, of which the planet has no shortage, they’re killing birds that are already edging toward extinction and exist nowhere else in the world.

Cat huggers — and don’t get me wrong, I love kitties, too — might not want to face that reality. But it’s important that our elected officials do.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Musings: Irreparable Harm

It was the kind of quiet — as in no human noise — darkish, drippy Sunday morning that made it easy to sleep in — yes, I sometimes do — though I was aware the birds were performing their usual loud and splendidly melodic dawn chorus as I drifted in and out of dreams. When the dogs and I finally went out into the green, wet world, Makaleha still had her curtains drawn, her waterfalls and craggy slopes hidden behind gray and white lace as another round of fine, light showers blew through, dampening us and drenching her.

Enjoying nature’s marvels from my spacious screened porch —I love my new house! — I scanned the news on my laptop and spotted on Yahoo headlines an AFP story that isn’t given much — heck, any — coverage in Hawaii: Guam’s quest for self-determination. The issue is gaining momentum in light of plans to move 8,000 soldiers from Okinawa to the American colony. The $10.3 billion military buildup is expected to swell the island’s population by about 79,000 people, or 45 percent of its population.

Just to make sure my perception was correct that the Star-Advertiser has pretty much ignored that topic, I searched its website and found nothing. Though I did find numerous stories and guest commentaries about how important it is for the U.S. to maintain a strong military presence in the Pacific and Asia. The most recent was a fawning lap dog piece by that old hack Richard Borreca giving Inouye a chance to deliver “a sober warning of the dangers America faces and Hawaii's century-long role as ‘the hub of American military strength that keeps the peace and deters aggression to the farthest reaches of our region.’”

Or in other words, beat the drum for a war against China and remind us how lucky we are that military spending accounts for 18 percent of Hawaii’s economy. Yeah, just keep on shilling, Richard.

But getting back to Guam, the people there, like many Native Hawaiians, want a chance to vote on their political future before they’re entirely inundated by outsiders, AFP reports:

Governor Edward Calvo successfully campaigned on the issue in a January election and pursued it in his State of the Island address in March.

"I highly doubt the 1,744 Marines and soldiers who gave their lives in the Battle of Guam died so that the people they liberated could be colonised for eternity," he said.

And their homeland trashed in the process. As The Washington Post reported last year:

The Environmental Protection Agency said last month that the military buildup, as described in Pentagon documents, could trigger island-wide water shortages that would "fall disproportionately on a low income medically underserved population." It also said the buildup would overload sewage-treatment systems in a way that "may result in significant adverse public health impacts."

Besides a new Marine base and airfield, the buildup includes port dredging for a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, a project that would cause what the EPA describes as an "unacceptable" impact on 71 acres of a vibrant coral reef. The military, which owns 27 percent of the island, also wants to build a Marine firing range on land that includes one of the last undeveloped beachfront forests on Guam.

It was so bad the EPA actually said “no, don’t do it.” Yet the U.S. never even consulted Guam on its decision to transfer the troops.

As The Huffington Post observed in its own article last year:

The possibility that Guam's indigenous residents may suffer irreparable harm from this planned military buildup without ever having had any effective say about it heightens the responsibility of Americans who do have voting representation in Washington to know something about the military buildup and its historical background.

Sound familiar? Only here in Hawaii, because we're a fake state, we're not totally shut out. Instead, we're given the chance to attend tightly controlled scoping meetings, respond to bogus Environmental Impact Statements and spend years in court suing the military over its many egregious actions, some of them decades old. But in the end, the military does pretty much whatever it wants, just as in the other nations it occupies.

And just as it has since it helped promote the overthrow, the Honolulu paper dutifully ignores the crux of the issue — the irreparable harm done to the land and its people by a military buildup — even though it employs a fulltime writer to cover military affairs in the Islands. Or at least, to report on the military’s version of its affairs in the Islands. Because there most decidedly is a difference.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Musings: Charting a New Course

Koko, Paele and I spent about an hour walking through a totally trashed landscape the other day, and I’m not talking about abandoned cars or litter. No, this was acres and acres of former sugar cane land now solely inhabited by such invasive scourges as guinea grass, java plum, African tulip and a creepily super-sized form of wedelia.

It was lushly green, and that’s always nice, though it wasn’t by any stretch of the imagination pretty in its aggressive, smothering sameness. As I walked, I thought about the legacy left by the plantation era: greatly altered landscapes like this one, residual poisons in the soil, silted reefs, captured streams. And it struck me that our current economic mainstay of tourism is creating its own tragic legacy. Only when it ends, it will leave behind ravaged coastlines. How much more abuse can poor Kauai take?

It brought to mind a conversation I had this week with a friend, who was quite passionately expressing his belief that hydro is a good thing and FERC is the place to start. I listened, because I like him and know him to be well-informed. But when the discussion turned to trust, and he said the KIUC Board is dominated by local guys, born and raised, and they’re not going to sell out the island or do it any harm, I had to ask, starting when?

Because this island — hell, all of Hawaii nei — is rife with examples of local guys, born and raised, selling out the island and doing it harm. Yeah, the money and devious plans might have from elsewhere, but they were the ones with the stamp of approval.

So now we are looking at the concept of using one legacy of the plantation era — its ditches, reservoirs and stream diversions — to generate electricity for the resorts, deluxe houses and military installations that have taken its place. And yes, the rest of us who are on the grid, too. But really, it’s primarily for the big users, because as KIUC CEO David Bissell told us at the meeting last Saturday, their hearty consumption essentially subsidizes the rest of us, thus keeping our bills lower than they otherwise would be.

It struck me, as I listened to my friend and walked through the abandoned cane lands, that we’re going about this in an ass-backwards way. We’re looking at alternatives to get off us oil and supposedly become more sustainable, even as we’re encouraging an inherently unsustainable industry to gorge on mass quantities of electricity with its 24/7 AC and lights and fountains and laundry facilities. I was told the monthly electric bill for the Marriott alone is in the range of $300,000. Now that’s a lot of juice. Or more correctly, hard evidence of a giant disconnect.

So while we’re caught up in discussions of whether we should follow a federal process, FERC, to explore hydroelectric power — which is not to say we shouldn’t be talking about it, because that’s what’s now before us — we’re skipping the discussion that should come first: how much energy do we really need, and for what purposes? How can we encourage people to change their expectations, alter their wasteful habits, so that we want, and thus use, far less energy?

And how sustainable is any alternative energy source, really, if it comes at the price of our precious streams (big hydro), remaining ag lands (solar “farms”) and native birds (windmills)?

Because the cheapest approach, the one with the least impact, is always going to be conservation. I know we could do a lot more in that area, though I understand it isn’t in the best interest of KIUC to push it, because it’s got an over-capacity oil-burning plant at Port Allen and a business model that needs super energy suckers to sustain it so we little users don’t stage a revolt or suffer economic hardship over outrageous utility bills that more accurately reflect the true environmental and social costs of generating electricity by any currently known, large-scale means.

It seems to me that faced with the reality of carbon-induced global climate change, the vagaries and insecurities of an oil-based economy, the inefficiencies of delivering electricity over long distances, the uncertain future of tourism and the unresponsiveness of utility monopolies, even those that are member-owned cooperatives, we need to be looking more carefully at site-specific, user-owned, decentralized systems for generating electricity, be it stream-surface hydro, roof-mounted solar panels or what have you.

Because despite what we’ve been told for the last 50 years, small is beautiful, tourism isn't gonna be around forever and this ain’t the mainland, with its natural gas, coal and oil reserves, and frontier mentality.

Or we can dump a bunch of money into studies that, if "successful," will result in projects that continue to squeeze Kauai and have essentially the same effect as pretty much everything else we've ever done in the name of "progress" and economic development. In other words, we'll keep selling out the island and doing her harm because we lack the courage to admit we’re traveling a fool’s road to the land of folly, and the imagination to chart a new course instead of a reworked version of the same-old, same-old.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Musings: Tell It Like It Is

I hadn’t heard them for a while, a couple of weeks, at least, but the Newell’s shearwaters were back today in the wee, wee hours of the morning, wheezing and honking their way to Makaleha, where albezzia trees are rapidly encroaching on their nesting grounds.

It made me think, as I walked beneath bold Venus in the stubborn, sullen grayness of a thickly clouded dawn, about an article my sister sent from the travel section of The New York Times about how Kauai is “an Eden for rare birds in Hawaii.”

Toward the end of the piece, after the writer had exulted in the conquest of checking off “new birds on my life list,” he told of standing at the Kilauea Lighthouse and tuning out naturalist Dr. Carl Berg because his ears had “grown weary” of listening to the many perils our native birds face. Then a nene – one bird species pulled from the brink of extinction -- caught his eye:

“How many people know that so many birds on this island are dying out?” I asked Mr. [sic] Berg.

“Look around you,” he told me. We were in a herd of baseball-hatted tourists, many snapping photos of birds. “You’re probably the only one here who knows.”

The better question would have been how many, even if they knew, would care? I mean, once they’d checked them off their life list.

What’s almost as sad is how little is done to educate tourists about what is truly, distinctly and uniquely Hawaiian, especially now that it’s on the ropes, which may in part explain why tourism is on the ropes.

And it is, according to Richard Lim, the new director of the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. As the Star-Advertiser reported:

Lim, who has been running DBEDT for six months, outlined a gloomy economic picture for the islands and said tourism has essentially remained stagnant for the last 20 years and can no longer be relied on to move the economy into a prosperous future.

It’s the same thing that Council Chairman Jay Furfaro has been saying as he seeks to resuscitate some of Kauai’s ailing hotel properties that have big debts, declining occupancy rates and obligations to union workers that they’d rather not honor.

Which is why it was kind of disconcerting to read someone like Paul Brewbaker, principal of TZ Economics and chairman of the state Council on Revenues, saying: “This is the first time I’ve heard any of this.”


But while Lim stunned his business audience by finally acknowledging that the goose that laid the golden eggs has been cooked, which renders false all those rosy DBEDT predictions of steadily growing visitor counts, he stunned us regular folks with this disturbing comment:

Businesses also need to lobby legislators and push back against community opposition that killed projects such as the Hawaii Superferry, Lim said.

“Ten surfers and a couple of well-heeled NIMBYs can wipe out economic development in the state,” Lim said, referring to “not in my back yard” opposition.

Aside from the fact that HSF died because it was bleeding copious quantities of cash, never had a viable business plan and the state had intentionally usurped its own environmental laws, it’s extremely troubling to hear a member of Abercrombie’s cabinet say, essentially, screw the community, man, just fucking steam roller any opposition, even if it has totally legitimate concerns.

Of course, that’s what most activists have always suspected the state – under any governor – and most business owners believe, even as they go through the motions of "seeking consensus" and "listening to community concerns." Lim finally came right out and said it.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Musings: Communication Breakdown

The stars were just disappearing and the sky was turning its pre-dawn white when the dogs and I went out walking this morning. The grass was wet, two waterfalls streamed down the face of Makaleha and there was an uncharacteristic — for June — nip to the air.

As the sun rose, slowly, the puffballs off to the south glowed pink and the fringe of gray hovering over Waialeale became a patch of fire as the mountain herself blushed lavender. Makaleha took on a golden-green glow, and it was all so fresh, so exquisite, that I knew we were heading into a marvelous day.

It was a marked contrast to the sinking feeling I experienced when I walked through the door of the Kauai Veterans Center at 8:30 yesterday morning and saw, at one end of the sign-in table, a pile of hand-crafted fans that read “Hydros” on one side and “Yes!” on the other. It took me a moment to catch on, as I’m not accustomed to seeing the first word pluralized, and then I politely asked the attendant if she had, in the interest of fair play, any fans with “FERC” on one side and “No!” on the other.

“That’s all the signs we have,” she said testily, and I joined a sizable crowd knowing I was attending something more akin to a time share sales pitch than a meeting that I thought was intended to give co-op members an opportunity to express their concerns and questions to KIUC Board members and staff prepared to listen to other points of view.

Because it was quite clear, from both the comments made by KIUC officials and the literature handed out — a front-and-back promo sheet for Free Flow Power (FFP), the company that KIUC has hired to walk it through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) process to potentially develop hydroelectric projects, and a half-sheet outlining “5 ways to make hydro happen on Kauai,” all of which focused on getting people to vote yes in the upcoming vote on the FFP contract — that KIUC is dead-set, come hell or high water, on following this particular course.

And the majority of those in attendance appeared to be equally dead-set in their opposition to it.

Which explains why one key player told me he hadn’t even bothered to offer testimony. “We’ll see them in court,” he said.

It was also clear that KIUC had, as Elaine Dunbar phrased it in her testimony, “successfully blurred the reason for this meeting. It’s not about hydro. It’s about secrecy and an improper process.”

Or as Adam Asquith, who initiated the petition drive that led to both the meeting and the upcoming vote, put it: “I really scratch my head. How did we get to this place of signs that say ‘hydro yes’ — the alternative being ‘hydro no?’ That was never our position. It’s ‘hydro yes, FERC no!’”

Indeed, the only mention of FERC anywhere in the KIUC handouts was a reference to J. Mark Robinson, one of FFP’s senior managers, as the former director of FERC’s Office of Energy Projects, which may explain a thing or two.

KIUC President and CEO David Bissell did bring it up, but only to say, “FERC’s not the issue in front of us. It’s to retain our consultants and our ability to continue with hydro.”

Yes, but those particular consultants were hired precisely because they had already filed FERC applications and supposedly have the expertise to guide KIUC through that particular process.

Bissell continued: “FERC’s just an option for us today. We can talk about it in the months and year or two ahead.”

But for people to believe that means they must, as Bissell exhorted, “have trust in KIUC. Have trust in your elected board. Have trust in me. And most important, have trust in yourself, because the only way these projects will go through is with overwhelming community support.”

Problem is, as Glenn Mickens pointed out, “There’s only one reason we’re here. It’s a matter of trust. From the get-go, people have this underlying mistrust of KIUC.”

Which is probably why some of the speakers talked about their belief that FFP had blackmailed KIUC into signing a contract with the threat that it would otherwise pursue hydro development without the utility — a charge that Bissell vehemently denied. Others said they felt like the utility was blackmailing co-op members when KIUC attorney David Proudfoot asserted that ending the FFP contract “would probably be the end, at least for the foreseeable future, of hydro development.”

That language is repeated in the “voter guide” that the utility will be sending out to co-op members with their ballot.

The fact that KIUC drafted the guide with no input from petitioners was another sore spot. Jonathan Jay noted that there was no discussion on the ballot measure about why the vote was taking place, and both he and Pat Gegen said it seemed unreasonable that KIUC had written the pro and con arguments.

“We tried to be very fair and balanced,” Bissell said.

Oh, really? Here’s a copy of the guide. What do you think?

Proudfoot, clearly irritated, was less conciliatory in his response.

“The Board voted for it [the contract]. They are entitled to support it. They are not required to help others who don’t support it with the member’s money. That’s why it’s clearly labeled KIUC voters guide.”

Ummm, yes, maybe that’s true from a strictly legal perspective, but from a community outreach, public relations standpoint, allowing Asquith to pen the petitioners’ argument would have done a lot to ease the mistrust and animosity of the opposition while minimizing the David vs Goliath scenario that’s emerging here.

But the utility’s insensitivity to such things is one of the underlying issues, prompting former Sen. Gary Hooser to observe: “I think the Board really blew it on how they rolled it out.”

While much of what I heard was nothing new, bits and piece of fresh information surfaced. Like the initial phase of the FFP contract is for “several million dollars," according to Proudfoot.

Oh, and that, according to Bissell, “It is very high on our priorities to talk to Native Hawaiians.”

Well, that’s good. Only it might have been smart to meet with them first, as opposed to the Rotary Clubs and Kauai Economic Development Board, since anyone with a brain knows that hydro projects on the Wailua River are going to meet intense cultural opposition.

And when Gay & Robinson rep Charles Okamoto asked, point blank, if KIUC planned to exercise the power of eminent domain to force G&R to accept a hydro project on its land — derailing its own plans for such a development in the process — Bissell replied: “We’ll either work a deal with you guys for us to do it or you to do it.”

Sweet. Guess that same "co-opt the opposition" thinking also prompted them to offer a job to Canen Hookano, whose Pacific Light & Power was working to develop hydro on the Westside before FFP moved to edge them out. He declined.

I was also interested to learn that Board members Carol Bain, Ben Sullivan and Jan TenBruggencate, after initially voting against the FFP contract because KIUC lacked a community outreach plan, are now solid supporters. All three offered testimony urging others to join them, with Bain saying, “We finally got our community plan. There is going to be communication, not propaganda. We are going to listen.”

As I left — shortly after Asquith expressed his dismay about the three-minute limit on member testimony and Westside homesteader Joe Manini noted that “if they [Bissell and Proudfoot] were given three minutes and we were given at least 15, maybe we would get our point across” — I picked up one of the “Hydros Yes!” fans as a little memento of communication, KIUC style.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Musings: DARE to Say No

It’s officially official: the war on drugs is a complete and utter failure that has devastated people and societies around the globe.

So says the newly released Report of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, whose members include former Secretary of State George Schultz, former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volker and various world leaders.

But while the Commissioners aren’t radicals, their recommendations most certainly are:

End the criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others. Challenge rather than reinforce common misconceptions about drug markets, drug use and drug dependence.

Review the scheduling of drugs that has resulted in obvious anomalies like the flawed categorization of cannabis, coca leaf and MDMA. Encourage experimentation by governments with models of legal regulation of drugs to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens Offer health and treatment services to those in need. Respect the human rights of people who use drugs.

Break the taboo on debate and reform.

Whoa, baby. Talk about a revolution.

And in a clear slap to Reagan-era policies and the debacle known as DARE:

Eschew simplistic ‘just say no’ messages and ‘zero tolerance’ policies in favor of educational efforts grounded in credible information and prevention programs that focus on social skills and peer influences.

Why? According to the report:

The global war on drugs has failed. When the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs came into being 50 years ago, and when President Nixon launched the US government’s war on drugs 40 years ago, policymakers believed that harsh law enforcement action against those involved in drug production, distribution and use would lead to an ever-diminishing market in controlled drugs such as heroin, cocaine and cannabis, and the eventual achievement of a ‘drug free world’. In practice, the global scale of illegal drug markets – largely controlled by organized crime – has grown dramatically over this period.

Indeed. Between 1998 and 2008 alone, use of opiates has increased 34.5%, cocaine 27% and cannabis 8.5%, according to the report.

Yet the United States – the biggest perp in the drug war and biggest consumer of licit and illicit drugs – remains in deep denial, wasting some $40 billion a year – yes, $40 FRICKING BILLION – fighting drugs. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal:

A spokesman for the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy said U.S. drug policy wasn't a result of a "drug war" mentality and that its "balanced drug control efforts are making a big difference," including recent reductions in the use of drugs such as cocaine.

But you can only bury the truth for so long, especially when the whole world is watching. As Democracy Now! Reports:

The drug war has been an expensive failure both abroad and at home, said Bruce Bagley, an expert on drug trafficking and Latin America at the University of Miami. Abroad, Mr. Bagley compared U.S. efforts to a massive game of whack-a-mole in which drug supplies, drug violence and crime are "shuffled from one country to the other." He said that in the U.S. there is little or nothing to show for it "except for the warehousing of some 600,000 people a year on drug-related offenses in prison at huge cost."

"It's estimated that over one trillion have been spent on fighting this unwinnable battle," Mr. Branson said, according to the AP. "The irony is that a regulated market — one that is tightly controlled, one that would offer support not prison to those with drug problems — would cost tax payers much less money."

But then we wouldn’t be able to lock up large numbers of young men of color, in a form of judicial genocide. We wouldn’t be able to fatten up our police departments with money seized through asset forfeitures. We wouldn’t be able to continue our imperialistic meddling in the affairs of our neighbors to the south with infusions of military equipment and paramilitary training programs.

We wouldn’t be able to marginalize and criminalize a segment of our society, in a classic divide and conquer strategy. We wouldn’t be able to control people through fear and bullshit them into giving up their civil liberties. And we wouldn’t be able to give big pharm, with all its lucrative campaign contributions, a legal monopoly on the market.

Because, you see, the drug war is only in small part about drugs.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Musings: Just Thinking

Today, when the dogs and I were out walking, watching the world awaken, the clouds in the west an exquisite shade of lavender, the sky stained with thin, salmon-colored streaks, a towering, gilded cumulus rising like a cathedral out of a burst of reddish gold, they were sniffing — dead toads, other dogs markings, what have you — and I was thinking, about a number of things.

Like one person’s comment yesterday about the shorter lives of our pre-agrarian ancestors, which is true, but how many people today really live their longer lives? And how many actually have reached the end of their natural lives, yet through extraordinary measures are kept alive, though they are not, in any real sense of the world, living?

I thought about the new Wailua bridge, which I have crossed twice now in pau hana traffic, and seen no noticeable improvement; the cars waiting to turn onto Kuamoo Road are still stacked up, jamming up the mauka lane, just like before, only now you can’t see the mountains or the river through the guardrails. And I thought of how the DOT now is saying, oh, you gotta wait until we finish the second phase of the project — widening the roadway from Kuamoo Road to the Kapaa Bypass Road (and here I thought about the exquisite double rainbow I saw there the other day) — before you see any real relief, but it’s not gonna start until next year.

And how it’s always the next fix that’s gonna fix everything, but in the meantime, more traffic has been added to the roads, and so it never does. And doesn’t that seem to be the way of things?

I thought of the comment made by Jay Manzano, president of Unlimited Construction, about how the project put people to work so they could pay the rent and buy food, which is no small thing, but what would have happened if that $29 million would’ve been divvied up among those who need it rather than spent widening a bridge?

And I thought of how they named the bridge after the late Bryan Baptiste, but what kind of legacy, really, is it to add a lane to a cane haul bridge? And then there was all the hoopla about how he was a person who built bridges that brought people together, like none of them had ever seen the protestors at the job site or heard the anguished cries of Hawaiians over iwi kupuna, the desecration of sacred Wailua.

I thought of how blogger Andy Parx finally wrote something negative about Councilman Tim Bynum, though he never went so far as to actually mention him by name, when he noted, in a post about how the proposed new Council rules stymie public participation and communication, that not one member had taken steps to allow the public an opportunity to address matters that we deem important.

Which should lay to rest once and for all the myth that Tim -- or rules committee chair JoAnn Yukimura, for that matter -- is any sort of open-government, accountable, transparent to the public kind of guy.

And I thought of how now the county is going to have to dig up the bike path to fix the seawall at Pono Kai, which they should’ve repaired before they built the path, but didn’t, and how they’re going to start the work in the winter, which is when the storm surf that caused the erosion in the first place is most likely to occur. And I wondered how many times they’re going to have to keep repeating that scenario as rising sea levels and increased storms bring more coastal erosion.

But never mind, because according to JoAnn, “Everywhere you look when you’re on the path people are happy.”

Later, on my way into work, I thought of how the county supposedly has only 10 cops on duty at any one time, yet three were on the bypass road, four were on the Wailua bridge and another was at the Hanamaulu junction.

And I could only think, WTF?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Musings: Getting There From Here

Today brings a partial solar eclipse and a new moon in Gemini, making it a good time to engage in fresh ways of thinking and being in the world.

As such, it seems appropriate to return to the topic of changing our discussion about sustainability, which I addressed two weeks ago on the ”Ignorance is Bliss” post. More specifically, I wanted to address an intriguing question posed in a thoughtful comment left by Ben Sullivan:

"How do we get there from here?"

It got me thinking, first along such lines as any individual effort is good, whether it’s planting a garden or reducing consumption of things imported to the island, and then about how government’s role should be protecting infrastructure like dams and reservoirs needed for agriculture.

But as I thought through each scenario that might develop under that approach, I kept coming back to the reality that to continue just about any aspect of modern life here on Kauai requires us to bring in stuff from someplace else, and that in and of itself is unsustainable. It’s unavoidably evident here on this little island in the Pacific, and also true throughout the world, because no one place has everything it needs to make the things we’ve all been taught to want.

Which kept bringing me back to my original premise: industrial civilization, or life as we know it in the 21st Century, is completely, utterly and inherently unsustainable.

So then what? Do we roll back to an agrarian society?

Well, if you listen to Lierre Keith, which I would highly recommend for a thoroughly stimulating and thought-provoking half-hour, you’ll soon learn why that’s not the answer, either. The premise of this former vegan is that vegetarianism as a sustainable model is a myth because agriculture is destroying human health and the planet.

I must say, she makes a good case, pulling from the archeological record to show that all the chronic degenerative diseases we accept as normal are unknown in hunter-gathers.

She also gets into factory farming, corporate control of the world food supply, corn subsidies paid to Midwest farmers, overpopulation as a function of global capitalism and patriarchy, and the massive inputs of energy required to keep modern ag going. Iowa alone, she says, uses the energy equivalent of 4,000 Nagasaki bombs every year in fertilizer and running farm equipment.

I was especially intrigued by her characterization of industrial, monocrop agriculture as “biotic cleansing,” because its repetitive clear-plant-harvest model, which kills even microorganisms, runs entirely counter to the intricate, diversity-driven, perennial plant-dominated workings of nature.

“Agriculture is a wound,” she says, that nature is constantly trying to repair.

“It’s a war every single year,” Keith says. “When we get out there and clear, we’re driving out the plants and animals that need a home. This is a nice way to say extinction. It’s been constant drawdown — of soil, species and water. It’s been 10,000 years, and we’ve trashed the planet. Now we’re out of continents. The human race is at the edge of the cliff.”

As she sees it, “We are going to have to give up agriculture if this planet has any hope.”

You know, that’s not so far-fetched, especially when you see where modern ag is headed, with GMOs and corporate control of seeds, rampant use of deadly chemicals and factory farms that subject animals to the most abhorrent conditions. And when you get right down to it, feeding people is secondary. The primary motive is profit.

Consider this statement by Keith:

“We took 60 million bison in this country and turned them into 40 million tortured cows and destroyed the continent in the process. It doesn’t even make any sense. But this is the insanity of industrial civilization.”

The link to her video was sent to me last week, but I found it in my in-box only yesterday, after writing a post about predictions that food prices will be climbing as demand grows and production wanes, throwing ever more people into poverty.

Agriculture, it seems, is already on the ropes.

But how, the interviewer asked Keith, are we going to feed the planet’s 7 billion human inhabitants if we give up modern agriculture?

“Nothing that we do is going to feed the 7 billion,” Keith replied. "The question is whether we’ll have a soft landing or a crash. We could have a soft landing, but I don’t see any evidence that we’re going to. I think the privileged are going to hang on to theirs until the very last moment.”

The answer, as she sees it, is to repair the world’s grasslands and forests, restore the animal cohorts that belong there and rejoin it as an integral part of a closed loop system – or to use a better term, a living community.

While we don’t have prairies or native game animals on this island, just imagine the diversity of food-producing life that could be generated if the forests and lowlands were restored.

In the process, we could also address climate change associated with global warming. If just 75 percent of the world’s trashed ag lands were restored as functioning grasslands and forests with animals, “within 15 years we could sequester all of the carbon produced since the beginning of the industrial age,” Keith says.

While Keith presented a rather dark view of the future, given our propensity to live in denial, she did point to the one really positive note for all of us who are committed to environmental stewardship, social justice and changing the course of this crazy, mixed up, “civilized” world.

“Frankly,” Keith said, “we just have to get out of the way. Nature will do the work for us.”

So perhaps the place to start, in getting from here to there, is understanding and supporting the workings of nature, and putting a stop to the ongoing destruction of the ecosystems that sustain us.