It has taken a long time for me to address this particular issue in this manner. I have listened, read, observed, and discussed the issue of the ferry system that has been “pushed” upon us. I do mean, “pushed” in a number of ways. I find it hard to understand that an event such as this, that will have such a large impact on our island of Kaua‘i, has been so callously forced upon us. I think a number of points should be known by the larger community to really understand and critically think about the impact this project will have. I will try to illustrate these as unemotionally as possible.
1. First of all, the notion that the public “wants” such a mode of transportation. Personally, I do not recall any public hearing or discussion that a ferry system involving the transportation of vehicles was made available for discussion. The only thing that I do recall is a visit by a ferry a number of years ago that was promoted as something that a company wanted to come and start this business. There was no public input asked or solicited about such a possibility. No one asked what we thought of such a ferry or whether we desired one. Representatives from the company say they have conducted polls or have information that Kaua‘i is in favor of such a ferry. But I and others have not heard of anyone that has been polled and the company has not divulged any information of the results of the poll itself, when it was conducted, who did the survey, and what questions were asked.
Barry Fukunaga (I think that was the name) from the Dept. of Transportation stated that the State has always solicited and desired another mode of inter-island transportation. The foremost question that comes to mind is “who” is the State? If we are part of the State, I do not recall any discussions or questions put to us asking what we thought. Of course, I do not religiously follow all public hearings or notices, so I might have missed this. Which then points out that perhaps the thought is that the less people hear of it, the less resistance and work needs to be done. Or, as this issue seems to point out, since we are less populated, but most impacted, Honolulu will decide for us what is best for us. This seems to be a case of the “plantation” mentality that “Big Brother” knows what is best or even a modern version of colonialism. If our government is truly understanding and open to the concerns of the people, then why have they not listened to the people themselves, or at least the governmental branch closest to the people affected? All the County Councils of the state, except for the County of Honolulu, have passed resolutions asking that a better assessment of this ferry be done prior to the project beginning. Does this not represent those that are most affected and closest to being impacted? Should not the legislature have then taken this as a “red flag” and taken the time to have a more complete investigation take place? Just because we have a smaller population than O‘ahu does not mean that we are insignificant. It is upsetting that our Governor did not even have the common courtesy of meeting personally with a group of people who wished to present her with a petition that asked for an EIS and to discuss this with her. This gave the appearance that we are insignificant and not worthy of her presence. But, she was all over the place when she wanted our vote!!
As a side note, the ferry company is only now sending out mailers to the households of Kaua‘i asking that we send in letters of support for the ferry to their company. Why are they only now asking for our support? Why did they not ask us four years ago what we thought and how can they work with the community? It seems that they are now in a propaganda mode to offset concerns that have been presented to them.
2. Secondly, the idea of being able to go from island to island with your vehicle is indeed enticing. How many times a year will clubs, organizations, etc. make use of this ferry? Which island will be most impacted? We all are attracted in going to O‘ahu with our car, but what of the converse? There are more people on O‘ahu interested in going to the outer islands with their vehicles than there would be outer island people going to O‘ahu on a fairly consistent basis. Which island will be most impacted? WE need to think about this not only from an environmental perspective, but also a social and cultural perspective.
Environmentally, what will the impact be on our natural resources? Even now, we are seeing more people using more of our natural resources. What will happen to areas of ocean recreation? Surf spots that were once laid back, open, un-crowded, and with a country mentality will be impacted by more surfers from off-island possibly leading to confrontations and territoriality. Fishing spots that were once able to sustain subsistence or at least a supplemental economy will be impacted by off-islanders coming to “harvest” and possibly to “sell” to an O‘ahu market place. What will happen to these resources? Will our shorelines and their resources become a barren wasteland similar to that found on O‘ahu? Will these resources just become a commodity to support the population of O‘ahu? After the loss of our marine resources, where will they go to next? In the end, who pays the price of this? I‘m sure those on O‘ahu, our Governor or most of the legislators will not be feeling the loss of this (out of sight, out of mind). What about Koke‘e and other mauka areas? Hunting areas and game that were plentiful may go the same way as our ocean resources. The impact of more people and demand for mokihana, maile, and other plants found in Koke‘e will be headed for a commercial market on O‘ahu. Who ends up paying the price? You may question that there are other modes of transportation that people can come in and do such things. But, the key point here is that this is an easy access to do so with their vehicle and whatever it may be able to carry back to O‘ahu without scrutiny or question.
Socially and culturally this will have the greatest impact on the lifestyle and ambiance of this island. We are still quite a small community in relation to O‘ahu. Many people still don’t lock their house and car doors relying on their trust in their neighbors and the rest of the community. Children are free to explore their community without fear or mistrust of those around them. What happens when an influx of “outsiders” arrives with their vehicles and the ability to “vanish” the next day to another island? Someone could burglarize a home, business, kidnap a child, etc. hide the merchandise in their vehicle, board the ferry, fence the goods on O‘ahu, and be lost in the multitudes of Honolulu. Who then pays for this? What resources are available to the Kaua‘i Police department? Whose jurisdiction does it then become? How efficient can the investigation be conducted? There are many questions that arise just in criminal conduct. This does not even address the drug concerns of the community. How easy is it to smuggle in drugs on a vehicle. An example is the Mexican-American border. There are many instances of drug smuggling involving vehicles. And this is with Federal drug enforcement agencies involved. We have not heard of any drug enforcement procedures that will be conducted for this ferry. The company just insists that this will be done, but has never answered the question as to how this can occur in a one-hour time frame.
Another aspect is the impact on public facilities. The use of public restrooms, beaches, parks, campgrounds, and other public facilities will greatly affect the community. We have a difficult time as it is maintaining what exists. Added use from off-island people will only add more of a burden. Who pays for these? Not the people who come here and then leave. We, the community pay for this with our property taxes. Does this mean that our property taxes will now go even higher to try and pay for maintaining and possibly building more public facilities? We do not have the population base to absorb these kinds of costs.
3. Thirdly, the reasons for the Legislature, Governor, the courts, and the Department of Transportation for not requiring an EIS or even further study of the project is faulty. What has been vocalized is that other maritime businesses were not asked for an EIS, so why pick on the ferry? Well, let’s do a little history and find out that Matson and Young Brothers were in business and a lifeline for the neighbor islands long before the advent of the EIS requirement. These maritime businesses also do not transport people, but goods that support our modern material culture. The only maritime business that recently entered the market is the cruise ships. They are right, an EIS wasn’t asked from them (I don’t know why they weren’t). But, the same problems of bringing in drugs, alien species, other invasive species, and the social impact on a community is in existence. It is a mistake that we did not require an EIS from them, but just because they were not required to produce an EIS does it make it “pono” not to ask a similar business and correct the mistake? Do we continue to make the same mistakes just because we made one earlier? That does not make any logical sense. Let’s correct what was done wrong previously and not let money, politics, or big business be the deciding factors. If, we truly have aloha for this place, we need to stand and protect what makes Kaua‘i special.
How can the ferry say they are environmentally friendly when they will be burning 6,000 gallons of diesel per trip? I feel that our government, our business people who are only looking out for themselves, and our politicians, have sold us out. Mr. Fukunaga said, “well, if you don’t like it, then don’t ride it.” That seems like a callous way to approach the concerns that we have about this project. So, our tax money goes into supporting this business (harbor improvements and don’t know what other kinds of incentives the State granted them) but we have no input about this venture. That doesn’t seem right!
I think the bottom line is that nobody came to us and asked us what we thought or invited us to become involved. It has all been an after thought and one of telling us this is what they are going to do no matter what we think or are concerned about. That is the American way or, more commonly called, the ha‘ole way. Is this what Hawai‘i is about? What if we came to your home and told you we were going to change things to our way, whether you liked it or not? Is that pono? E Ku Pono Kakou.
• Dennis Chun is a Lihu‘e resident.