Hawai‘i Ghostnet program gets Harvard nod

The Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government in Boston — in cooperation with the Council for Excellence in Government — recently announced the Top 50 Government Innovations for 2006.

The successful programs range from a U.S. Military Academy video game to a pollution prevention program in Hawaii.

The Hawaii program began by diverting discarded commercial fishing net from Oahu’s landfill to H-POWER, Oahu’s garbage-to-electricity plant.

The solution expanded to address the problem of untold tons of ghostnet — fishing net that has been accidentally or purposely discarded from commercial fishing boats — floats on the ocean surface, posing a threat to shipping and marine life. The local problem is that much of the ghostnet drifts onto Hawaii’s Northwest Islands, where it snags on reefs. There it has a “bulldozer” effect on the reefs, and strangles marine life, including the endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal. The specific problem is that the snagged net removed from the reefs was deposited in Oahu’s one remaining landfill, both adding to a landfill problem and wasting an energyrich resource.

The pilot project is intended to serve as a model for the U.S. and other nations experiencing similar problems with ghostnet. The program changed the previous practice of landfilling discarded net, to diverting the net to become fuel. The current change is shifting the previous practice of retrieving snagged net at a cost of $25,000 per ton to retrieving ghostnet from the open sea and bringing it to a port reception facility at a small fraction of the cost. The program will be expanded if a federal bill to appropriate $15 million is passed.

These public-sector programs are now semifinalists for the Innovations in American Government Awards — considered the “Oscars” of government — and are eligible to win one of seven $100,000 grants.

The selection committee chose the Top 50 programs, representing governments at the federal, tribal, state, county and city levels, for their: novelty and creativity, effectiveness at addressing significant issues and problems and ability to be replicated by other jurisdictions. The programs represent governments’ best efforts in the areas of education and training, criminal justice and public safety, economic and community development, housing, health and social services, management, transportation, public works and environment.

Of the Top 50 programs named, 21 are state-run efforts, 13 are federal initiatives (including three from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) and one run by a tribal government. Seven county programs, seven city programs and two school districts are also among those chosen.

Eighteen finalists, chosen from among the 50, will be announced on May 4 during Public Service Recognition Week.

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