Kaua‘i state lawmakers yesterday updated the Lihu‘e Business Association on legislation that could enhance the future vitality of the island’s commercial heart.
Some 40 residents packed Duke’s Canoe Club in Kalapaki for the association’s first annual meeting, which included election of officers and a board of directors.
Sen. Gary Hooser, D-7th District, and Rep. James Tokioka, D-15th District, talked about bills that passed in the 2008 session and legislation that fell short.
They also voiced support for residents to become involved in the political process this election year, answered questions about Hawaii Superferry and encouraged public input on potential air traffic changes in Nawiliwili.
“We need more people willing to step up to the plate,” Hooser said. “We need new leaders.”
He recognized Lihu‘e resident Derek Kawakami, who resigned Tuesday from his seat on the Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative board of directors so he could focus on his bid for Kaua‘i County Council.
Hooser and Tokioka served on the council before advancing their political careers to the state level.
“We need to get the input from you to do our jobs effectively,” Tokioka said.
The representative asked for input on a plan being considered to establish an inland heliport. He said the newly paved pads at the Lihu‘e airport may present air traffic nuisance issues for Nawiliwili residents.
He noted a Grove Farm project will build more homes in an Eastside area that lies under the path of commercial helicopter tours.
One can argue that the residents know these noise issues before they move in, Tokioka said, but it is a quality of life issue.
Moving the heliports inland creates a “safer situation,” he said.
Tokioka compared it to the Niumalu community which has been fighting for years for stricter emissions laws so they suffer less from the pollution that drifts through the valley from cruise ships docked at the nearby port.
The state Legislature last session deferred a bill proposing a three-year pilot program to determine the level and environmental impact of air pollution caused by bunker-fuel burning in cruise vessels docked or moored at Nawiliwili Harbor.
“Frankly, I’m concerned that Norwegian Cruise Lines wasn’t more cooperative,” Hooser said. “Why do we get dirtier standards than California?”
NCL, the top cruise line serving Kaua‘i, fought the bill at the state level. The legislation was originally introduced as a ban on large commercial passenger vessels burning bunker fuel containing 1,000 or more parts-per-million of sulfur within a five-mile radius of Nawiliwili Harbor.
Similar legislation to restrict what fuels ships can burn at ports is pending in Congress. California has a state law to burn low sulfur fuel.
Hooser said cruise companies at the committee hearing told how ships burn the 0.5 percent fuel required in California and then switch to a dirtier fuel out at sea.
He said if NCL is able to sail in and out of California on the higher grade fuel, why not in Hawai‘i?
NCL officials have said the cost to convert to this cleaner-burning fuel would be significant, possibly adding thousands of dollars to each voyage and impacting the bottom line. They called on the state to first evaluate the option of switching to other fuels.
The lawmakers also answered questions about another controversial passenger vessel, the Hawaii Superferry.
A resident asked if the 866-passenger, 282-car high-speed inter-island catamaran could be called on to resume service from Honolulu to Kaua‘i in the interest of helping athletic teams travel to state competitions.
Hooser said the company should first establish reliability on its daily runs between O‘ahu and Maui. Then officials should open a dialog with the community.
Although Hawaii Superferry has no legal impediments preventing it from servicing Kaua‘i, the company’s president has said it will return when the community signals it wants it.
The company has endured legal battles, protests, rough seas and technical challenges. It has not sailed to Kaua‘i since August 2007 demonstrations blocked the ship from docking.
“There’s a lot of bad blood,” Hooser said. “There were serious errors in judgement.”
He noted the company’s failure to disclose all its lobbying expenses and clear attempt to circumvent the state’s environmental laws.
Tokioka agreed, saying his concerns over Hawaii Superferry are over the process.
He said he has heard from many students on sports teams on Maui who have used the ferry to travel to O‘ahu for events who have reported “throwing up” because of sea sickness.
Hooser said he and the three Kaua‘i state representatives (which also include Mina Morita, D-14th District, and Roland Sagum, D-16th District) worked well together again last session, which ended May 1, to pass bills that benefit the island.
“It’s about access,” he said, noting the delegation’s ability to push legislation through committees. “We’re more effective than any other district.”
Hooser refuted Gov. Linda Lingle’s administration’s claims that he serves on a “do-nothing Legislature.”
“We work in a partisan environment,” he said. “Unfortunately, that’s part of life.”
The Legislature passed many pieces of legislation that directly affect Kaua‘i. Some highlights include:
• A solar water heater mandate for all new Hawai‘i homes.
• A resolution asking the Department of Education to explore relocation and expansion of the Kapa‘a Public Library.
• A bill ensuring the public’s right to access coastal and inland recreational areas via “roads in limbo,” older government routes with uncertain jurisdiction.
• A compromise measure to allow direct negotiations with existing permittees and the public auction of vacant cabins at Koke‘e State Park.
• A new small business bill of rights.
• $2 million for Port Allen Small Boat Harbor improvements.
• $300,000 to improve Nawiliwili Harbor.
• $1.22 million for Kaua‘i Planning and Action Alliance’s improvements of Na Pali Coast and Koke‘e state parks.
• $373,000 for Kaua‘i Economic Opportunity’s homeless emergency shelter certified kitchen and purchase of the Lihu‘e Early Learning Center.
• Some $20 million for physical improvements to Kaua‘i schools.
Lihu‘e Business Association President Pat Griffin said the nonprofit group is not lobbying legislators so much as “holding hands” with government leaders to co-create the island’s future.
“It’s up to us to make Lihu‘e, the heart of Kaua‘i, a real pumping entity,” she said.
The association, which has 120 members, meets next on June 26. For more information, call 639-1019 or e-mail email@example.com.
• Nathan Eagle, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or firstname.lastname@example.org