Three mayoral candidates like co-op ownership of Kauai Electric

LIHU’E – Three of four mayoral candidates say they favor the Kaua’i Island Utility Co-op’s bid to buy Kauai Electric.

County Councilmember Randal Valenciano backs co-op ownership of KE, as long as the focus remains on reasonable rates and reliable service.

Council Chair Ron Kouchi supports KIUC’s bid to buy KE, and added that the council and Mayor Maryanne Kusaka need to reach areas of agreement where the sale is concerned, in order to approach KE owner Citizens Communications to see if the price can be lowered even further before the state Public Utilities Commission reaches a decision.

That decision is expected near the end of next month.

“Anyone but the county, period,” said Dennis Nimkie, who added that he thinks the county should step back and allow the PUC process to proceed until it’s finished.

Is the co-op and KE a perfect marriage? Probably not, Nimkie asked and answered.

County Councilmember Bryan Baptiste, who did not reveal his position regarding co-op ownership of KE, said his idea would have been for the county to borrow money to purchase KE, and allow the co-op to run it.

The county saved the co-op $70 million by opposing the sale with its $285 million price tag two years ago, and Baptiste thinks county involvement could reduce even further the currently agreed-upon $215 million price.

The candidates, meeting at the monthly gathering of the Lihue Business Association at Hawaiian Classic Desserts on Rice Street here, agreed that communication is the key to a new county administration working with a new County Council.

Kouchi got a laugh when he said buying drinks and pupus would be one of his ideas, but said that opening the lines of communication through informal get-togethers works. Further, since he hired most of the current council services staff and considers them friends, his administration would have an advantage working with new councilmembers.

Nimkie said he’ll be a good listener and negotiator. “I will personally build an atmosphere of trust,” something he said has been lacking in the current administration.

Valenciano said a common goal of a good, productive relationship, and realizing that’s the goal, will go a long way towards establishing an environment where working together happens.

The current councilmembers all support an amendment to the Kauai County Charter, to appear on the Tuesday, Nov. 5 general election ballot, that would establish a fund to buy land for public use in perpetuity.

A bill moving before the council would require developers of new subdivisions to offer rights-of-way for beach and mountain public access.

Baptiste introduced the access legislation, and said his vision is a ring of access around the entire island’s perimeter.

The 18-mile ocean pathway proposed from Kalapaki Beach to Anahola is a part of that vision. “It’s not about biking. It’s not about walking,” Baptiste said.

“It’s about open space, access in perpetuity,” he added.

Kouchi co-sponsored the resolution for the charter amendment, and said the whole idea is creation of open space. “You cannot put a price on what that access means to the community,” said Kouchi.

He talked about the many years of effort required to acquire the lots between Poipu Beach Park and Brennecke Beach, and said an affirmative vote to the charter proposal could enable the county to float bonds to fund land acquisition.

That would “allow dreams, and dreams to come true.”

Nimkie said the coastlines and beaches belong to the people of Kaua’i, and landowners must understand that access is necessary, and that it will be the county to establish that access, not the landowner.

He said he believes strongly in the concept of private ownership and use of land, but when public access is at stake he’ll always side with the public.

Valenciano favors a balancing of public access and private property rights, with accesses established cooperatively and in the “least intrusive manner” where the landowner is concerned.

Since parking is a key concern of the LBA, another question at the meeting pertained to the former Gem parking lot off Rice Street.

Technically, it is reserved parking for county employees. But others going to the post office, and to county buildings on business, park in that lot if stalls are found.

The question, then, is how will the candidate as mayor improve public parking for those going to the Lihue Civic Center on county business?

Nimkie said county employees shouldn’t get the prime parking stalls, and he’d reserve those stalls closest to the buildings for the public.

He might also suggest closing off the lot’s Rice Street entrance, creating a few more stalls in the process. On the Big Save side of the center, Nimkie says he’d negotiate with the state to find alternative parking for state vehicles and employees, freeing up even more stalls.

Valenciano said the bad situation will get worse before better, and favors designated public parking stalls with time limits on the stalls. He doesn’t want to install parking meters, like those in the State Building and courthouse lots.

The Lihue Civic Center was purchased by the county and designed for public use, as the centralized, one-stop shop to conduct public business with county government, but having insufficient parking defeats the purpose, Valenciano said.

Kouchi admitted he doesn’t have the answer to parking woes, but pledged to engage the local business community and residents to come up with workable solutions. A shuttle system for county employees, who could use parking in the convention hall or Vidinha Stadium lots, is a possible fix, he said.

Staff Writer Paul C. Curtis can be reached at mailto:pcurtis@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 224).

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