Mayoral candidates weigh in on issues

Solid waste, recycling, public parks and other issues were covered by the mayoral candidates one final time before the Tuesday, Nov. 5 general election.

County Council Chair Ron Kouchi, a Democrat, and Vice Chair Bryan Baptiste, a Republican, are the finalists in the nonpartisan mayor’s race, and were not restricted by either time or word limits in responding to seven questions posed by The Garden Island.

The order of candidate answers alternates after each question.

1. If you had to pick a long-range, solid-waste solution today, what would it be, and why?

Baptiste: There is no “silver bullet” solution for our solid-waste challenges. I look at it as a three-pronged approach solution that must incorporate well-focused planning and follow through in the following areas: 1. Enhanced recycling; 2. Composting processing; 3. Incineration of biomass. To begin with, an enhanced recycling approach is not just a good idea, but an essential part of our responsibility to future generations. On a global level, our resources are limited, and will soon run out if we don’t recycle. The composting process of our greenwaste, wet waste and sewage sludge should provide a viable and economic product for exporting into the world market. And, finally, incineration of biomass to energy conversion will move us closer towards alternative energy options while providing the framework to incinerate what we haven’t been able to recycle or compost.

Kouchi: I would address long-range, solid-waste concerns by expanding the county’s recycling programs; expanding re-use activities; supporting community-based solid waste reduction initiatives, such as the North Shore Business Council’s pilot greenwaste program. This would also enhance public-private partnerships; and supporting development of an incineration facility, as proposed by Gay & Robinson. A vitrification process would be used, and the end product, being non-toxic, could be used as road fill. This helps extend the life of the existing Kekaha Landfill and also decelerates the need for a new landfill site, which no community wants in their back yard.

2. How can elected county officials help to bring more state and federal roadway dollars to the island?

Kouchi: As a councilmember, I have made it a point to be active with organizations like the National Association of Counties (NACo) and the Hawaii State Association of Counties (HSAC). I have worked closely with the staff of NACo in order to keep Kaua’i informed of national highway funding opportunities, such as the federal Intermodal Surface Transportation and Efficiency Act of 1991 and its successors, the Transportation Equity Act and the Transportation Equity Act reauthorization. As part of HSAC, I have also had the opportunity to work with both the Hawai’i congressional delegation and our state legislators on highway funding.

Baptiste: Elected officials should support and create a grant-writing division to enhance our financial resource pool. Federal and state grant opportunities are available to free up more general-fund revenues for expansion or enhancement of public services, such as roadways, without additional tax burdens placed on the residents of Kaua’i. Grant awards include administrative fees for additional grant writers, therefore enabling this division to become a self-sufficient entity as it grows. Visionaries, both past and present, have looked to the power-line trail to connect the south and north ends of the island. This highway through Lihu’e, Hanama’ulu, Wailua Homesteads, Kapahi and Anahola to Kilauea would serve to ease traffic congestion on our only major eastern route to the North Shore. In the short term, feeder roads from the existing Kapa’a bypass to shopping centers in the Kapa’a corridor should be built. It would serve the community well to build a couplet throughout central Kapa’a, with the existing bypass extending to its northerly connection to Kuhio Highway. I envision access to the Westside with an expansion of four lanes from the Tunnel of Trees. Ideally, it would be a divided highway with a landscaped greenway in between, to keep our rural character.

3. What would be your reaction as an elected official to a forced closure of state parks on Kaua’i due to liability concerns?

Baptiste: First and foremost, I believe that public access is our right, but there are special situations like the Sacred Falls issue. The public has a right to access to our natural resources, recreational and cultural sites. These sites are the primary facets of our lifestyle and quality of life. However, public safety has to be addressed, and park closure in certain circumstances may have to be imposed if the site is deemed too hazardous. We will work and see if we can mitigate solutions before arriving at the decision to close. I personally would like to see our state come up with legislation that now exists in other states which prohibits people who have taken irresponsible actions from suing the state.

Kouchi: The effect of the negligence ruling in the Sacred Falls lawsuit may well lead to closure of not only public recreation areas, but also private lands where the public is currently allowed to access. It would be an outrage if this were to occur. We also need to lobby for more funding to maintain our parks from the Legislature.

4. What is your long-term plan for protecting parks on Kaua’i?

Kouchi: A coordinated effort must be made to lobby the state Legislature to pass bills to mitigate liability of both the county and state in public parks. Risk assessments for certain areas may have to be undertaken, as well as concerted efforts to improve warning signage and general public education of recreational risks.

Baptiste: My long-term plan for parks is multi-faceted. It includes supporting community’s efforts in raising responsible and respectful citizens who value benefits provided by public facilities. At the same time, my plan includes a creation of regional parks of 100-plus acres each. I can envision expansion of Salt Pond Beach Park as a regional park to include the Hanapepe Stadium with its football fields and baseball diamonds. If the state would be willing to turn the land at Burns Field over to the county, we could further develop Salt Pond park to include a major soccer field to house numerous fields, so parents would not have to travel from one game to the next to watch children playing in different age-group teams. Regional parks would allow us an opportunity to support youth and family activities not actively existing on Kaua’i, such as community volleyball courts, large swimming pools to properly train potential Olympians, or equestrian and archery facilities to support interests in these acres of recreation. Communities that fully enjoy the benefits of their parks are bound to demand protection and maintenance of such regional facilities. Regional parks are logistically easier to maintain than pocket parks in the neighborhood. However, immediate attention to restrooms in our public facilities is needed. They must be retrofitted with stainless-steel fixtures, painted with graffiti-proof paint, and steam-cleaned on a quarterly basis. I would seek government, community and private-sector partnerships and their active involvement to develop expectations of new standards of excellence in the maintenance of public parks. I look to facilitating the interaction of good community leaders as I have done with Ho’olokahi to empower our citizens to create this new and quite exciting reality.

5. Is recycling a “feel-good” activity that will never pay for itself, as Mayor Maryanne Kusaka once stated?

Baptiste: Recycling in the present state of operation cannot pay for itself. But with resources dwindling all over our world, any reuse efforts just are good common sense. It is first and foremost a responsibility to our children that we continue in our efforts to recycle more efficiently and viably. If we expand our recycling center to become an incubator for off-shoot recycling endeavors, such as the production of plastic lumber or crushed glass as a product used as base course for roadway construction, cesspool fill, or landscaping beautification, then the process is not only a “feel-good” activity, but can become an effort that pays for itself.

Kouchi: Given the cost of constructing a new landfill, recycling is more than a “feel-good” activity. It is imperative to implement as many recycling/reuse programs as possible in order to preserve existing landfill capacity and extend the planning horizon on a new landfill site.

6. If a decision had to be made today on a new landfill site, where would you propose, and why?

Kouchi: If a long-range, solid-waste plan can be implemented, some of the pressure of siting a new landfill could be relieved. Logically, a new landfill site should be located between the Kipu and Maluhia Road area. This area is close to the population centers of the island (Kapa’a-Wailua, Lihu’e, and Koloa-Po’ipu) which are the major generators of the island’s solid-waste flow. It is also an area that remains buffered with enough distance from existing residential communities.

Baptiste: I would propose a location between Puhi and Maluhia Road (Tunnel of Trees) because it is an area that does not abut a residential community, nor raises watershed concerns, and can be located where it would be visibly unobtrusive as well.

7. Kouchi once said that solid waste and Kauai Electric are issues 1 and 1a on the island, in either order you prefer. Now that the KE ownership issue seems close to closure, what issue appears to be moving up to replace KE ownership as a top Kaua’i issue?

Baptiste: On a reactionary premise we can refer to solid waste and traffic as being among the top issues. However, as a pro-active visionary, what I see most glaring is the need for systemic change. Without it, we will continue to be frustrated by a system that cannot provide timely efficiency and infrastructural adjustments needed for Kaua’i. The present system of operating with government leading from the top of the systemic pyramid is out of touch with the people it serves at the base. Let’s reverse the system, placing people at the top of directing community needs. I see the mayor facilitating community with government agencies to resolve the issues quickly and productively. The present system defers, and regurgitates little after a lengthy period. So the biggest issue is moving people to bring much-needed changes. Our people must understand how crucial it is to listen to themselves when they say, “I want change.” The reality of wanting change is letting go of old systems and old thinking. The paradox of resisting new ways of doing things is the very issue that prevents us from realizing the changes people say they want. Will we in our lifetime really preserve and safeguard the lifestyle and ambiance we value on Kaua’i at safer and efficient levels for our children and generations to come? I don’t think so, if this issue remains at “doing the same things the same way.”

Kouchi: I see overall “quality of life” issues as critical to our future as an island community. We need to embrace sustainable development principles as development occurs, and incorporate “Smart Growth” principles so we may realize energy and transportation efficiencies, as well as being environmentally sensitive. These kinds of efforts will lead to being able to enjoy the quality of life we have come to love on Kaua’i. I embrace the policies of the General Plan Update (GPU) and appreciate that it was community-driven. Completed less than two years go, it doesn’t make sense to deem development reasonable and logical if it does not follow or is not included in the GPU (i.e. Ocean Bay Plantation project). If, however, the development as a whole package provides increased benefits (affordable housing, public land contribution for public recreation, etc.) back to the community, then it may be worthwhile supporting.

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

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