Council defers Bill 2491, again

LIHUE — More than 12 hours into a committee meeting, the Kauai County Council opted Monday to defer — for the second time — a bill that would allow the county to regulate pesticide use and genetically modified organisms on the island.

The council’s Economic Development (Agriculture) Committee will resume discussion on Bill 2491 on Sept. 27, when members will likely introduce several amendments that were floated this week.

Had it been up to Councilman Ross Kagawa, the committee would have cut to the chase and voted Monday on the bill as-is, with no amendments — something he said the community has been pushing for all along.

“I just can’t see going through this whole process again and amendments are still not ready,” he said.

Bill 2491 requires Kauai’s largest agricultural companies to disclose pesticide use and genetically modified organisms, creates 500-foot buffer zones around public areas and waterways, and imposes a moratorium on the expansion of GMO fields and open-air testing until the county completes an environmental impact study.

The bill has received national attention since being co-introduced June 26 by Committee Chair Gary Hooser and Councilman Tim Bynum,

Supporters say the bill is about the right to know what is happening in their backyard. Opponents say the bill unfairly targets the biotech industry and will put companies out of business.

“I don’t think our county has the capability,” Kagawa said of Kauai regulating the industry.

He added he hopes the county can work closer with state agencies and leaders, specifically Gov. Neil Abercrombie.

“(Abercrombie) has given us assurance that he is concerned about the Department of Ag’s and the Department of Health’s lack of oversight regarding pesticide use and how it affects our community members,” Kagawa said.

Councilman Mel Rapozo said there are mechanisms already in place to deal with the issue, but the state has yet to step up and do its job. Rapozo, who said his position against the bill is “no secret,” believes the county has the right to move forward if the state does not cooperate.

But to do so now would be premature, he said.

Though in favor of disclosure and buffer zones, Rapozo said he is not convinced passing the bill would lead to any significant results, other than the council being able to say it stepped up and passed a controversial bill.

“I’m not interested in the accolades, or the pats on my shoulders,” he said. “I’m more interested in making sure those people that are affected are safe.”

Rapozo voiced his frustration with how the bill has divided the community and damaged relationships.

Over the last two months, supporters of the bill have adopted the color red, sporting “Pass the Bill” T-shirts during public hearings and rallies. On the other side, biotech employees and bill opponents have been donning blue T-shirts with slogans such as “We are Kauai Ag” and “Proud to be Kauai Ag.”

“It’s going to be very tough to bring the red and the blue to a purple,” Rapozo said. “That’s just the reality. Some words have been said that cannot be taken back.”

Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura said the council should work on bringing the island back together by amending the bill in a way that achieves protection without unintended consequences. As-is, Bill 2491 would cut the farmable land at Kauai Coffee — the only non-GMO company that would be affected — by 50 percent, according to Yukimura.

“If we don’t have to hurt jobs, we shouldn’t,” she said. “And that’s the path I’m trying to find.”

Nakamura said she has concerns about the legalities of certain portions of the bill, and would support a study focused on prioritized health and environmental issues.

The bill now heads to a third committee meeting Sept. 27. Hooser asked committee members to have amendments ready prior to the meeting.

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