EPA: Project Faith a model for community problem-solving

ANAHOLA — Leaders with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Environmental Justice called Anahola’s Project Faith a shining example of community collaboration and problem solving, essentially saying the $100,000 federal grant given to the project’s leaders was money well spent.

Janet Smith, project officer of the EPA Office of Environmental Justice’s Collaborative Problem- Solving Agreement Program said the $100,000 James “Jimmy” Torio, head of Project Faith, received, “is just the beginning, and we think the collaborators (Torio, members of his group, government leaders and private investors) are the keys to the success of this project.”

Ayako Sato, the technical advisor for Torio’s project, said, “The $100,000 is for a community group to develop strategies and get maximum support (for a project).”

All too often, federal funds are received by large and experienced developers or those at universities, whose representatives go out into the community and ask how they can help residents, Smith said.

The Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem- Solving Agreement Program is a program that puts decision-making powers in the hands of regular folks, Smith said.

The program funds go into the hands of members of local, community groups who are ready to work with officials of government agencies and others to fashion solutions, Smith said.

Torio has been working with officials from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and Kaua’i County in moving Project Faith forward.

Torio’s work offers a wealth of information on how to attack a community problem, Smith said.

“The local, community-based group with similar problems can look at his collaborative-solving project and apply it to the problem,” she said.

Smith and Sato were on Kaua’i earlier this week, and gave passing marks on the use of federal funds to Project Faith, a multi-millon-dollar undertaking by Native Hawaiians in Anahola to help future generations of Native Hawaiians become economically self-sufficient.

Smith and Sato visited the three-acre site that is the meeting place for the Anahola Homesteaders Council and home to Anahola entrepreneur and community leader Torio, and signed off on the $100,000 grant award from officials in the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice.

The grant award helps move along Project Faith, a $40-million, 10-year plan in the making by members of the council, Torio and his wife, Marie, to develop a 17-plus-acre business and cultural center located mauka of Kuhio Highway in Anahola.

The project, which also is intended to perpetuate the Native Hawaiian culture, would include professional and retail offices, and a living center for kupuna (elders).

Also planned is a charter school focusing on Hawaiian values, and a commercial craft fair at which Hawaiian goods can be promoted and sold.

Members of the Hawaiian group are among 30 community-based groups nationwide whose leaders were awarded a total of $3 million in EPA grant funds in 2004 from leaders in the EPA Office of Environmental Justice’s new Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem-Solving Cooperative Agreement Program.

Project Faith is the only program in Hawai’i to get the federal funds.

The funds are intended to allow leaders of community-based groups to address environmental and public concerns in their community.

The Hawaiian group members used some of the $100,000 to address solid-waste, drinking-water and water-quality issues in Anahola. Water testing and analysis were done on water from the Ke Ana Kolea Falls in the state Moloa’a Forest Reserve to the Anahola River. The falls are located about six miles mauka of Anahola town.

Some of the funds also were used to remove contamination and abandoned junk vehicles from the 17-acre site, to rent equipment to move along Project Faith, and to set up environmental-education programs for island children, including students at the Kanuikapono Public Charter School in Anahola.

The school is operated by Torio’s daughter, Ipo Torio, and Kamahalo Kauhane.

The EPA funding for Torio’s project requires EPA leaders to sign cooperative agreements with officials of local, community-based organizations seeking to address environmental- or public-health concerns in their communities through “constructive and collaborative problem-solving” strategies with “stakeholders,” such as leaders of government agencies, private businesses and non-governmental organizations.

“Our project helped develop community plans, helped them bring together the community, not just Anahola, but his (Torio’s) partners, to bring awareness to the project,” said Smith.

“And I personally think it (the funding) spearheaded the momentum, which has gotten him (Torio) the Brownfields project, and has given him recognition of his many years of work,” said Smith.

Torio’s project was selected for participation in EPA’s Brown-fields Economic Development Initiative, a nationwide project to revitalize properties containing environmental contamination.

The 17-plus-acre site was selected because it contained 800 abandoned automobiles, and was littered with tires, batteries and household goods. Most of the debris has been removed.

Inclusion in the program has opened up opportunities for Torio to apply for and receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal funds and private funds for his project.

Smith and Sato met earlier this week with Torio and members of the Anahola Homesteaders Council, to go over a final report on the $100,000 grant award the group leaders received over the past 18 months.

The report is a federal requirement, to show how the funds were spent, and how the project was developed, Smith said.

Leaders of the 30 community-based organizations won the federal funds on a competitive basis, and each was awarded $100,000 for use over a three-year period, Smith said. All of the funds were awarded in 2004.

Torio and members of his group distinguished themselves by becoming the first of those in the 30 groups to finish a project, Smith said.

Torio and proponents of Project Faith were able to finish up with their grant allotment in only 18 months. The grant expires this month.

During their visit to Kaua’i, Smith and Soto visited a learning center at the Kanuikapono Public Charter School, and watched a video that was created as part of the EPA program to illustrate the value of protecting the resources of the Anahola ahupua’a, a land division that extends from the mountains to the ocean.

The video will help encourage the next generation of Kaua’i children to preserve and protect Hawai’i’s natural resources, Smith said.

Smith and Sato returned to Washington, D.C. on Wednesday.

For more information on Project Faith, please go to www.anahola.net.

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