Mayor calls for 2491 delay

LIHUE — Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. and his administration recommended Tuesday that the Kauai County Council consider another deferral of Bill 2491.

“There’s more work to be done,” Carvalho said. “I truly believe we have an opportunity here to talk this thing through.”

As Council Chair Jay Furfaro predicted, the council did not come to a final vote on an amended version of the bill related to pesticides and genetically modified organisms on the island.

Instead, council members listened to additional public testimony and a lengthy presentation from Carvalho and his administrative team about their concerns and the bill’s operational impacts.

With a previous commitment to go into executive session at 2 p.m., Furfaro recessed the matter around 1 p.m.

The full council is scheduled to resume its discussion and possibly vote on 2491 Tuesday.

Since council members Gary Hooser and Tim Bynum introduced the controversial bill in June, proponents have adopted the color red — opponents, the color blue.   

As he has for all events related to the bill, Carvalho arrived in council chambers dressed in purple, Kauai’s official color and what some have pointed out would be the result of both sides uniting and collaborating.

The mayor said public participation over the last few months has been amazing, and that he is interested in bringing all parties together to find the best solution for the people of Kauai and Niihau.

On Monday, Carvalho traveled to Honolulu for a discussion with Russell Kokubun, chair of the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, and members of Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s staff.

“I feel very confident I have the full commitment of working together to come to a document, or an understanding, of what everybody’s role is and how this whole issue can move forward,” he said. “Again, in the best interest of all.”

If passed in its current form, the bill would require Kauai’s largest agricultural companies — DuPont Pioneer, Syngenta, Dow AgroSciences, BASF and Kauai Coffee — to disclose the presence and use of genetically modified crops and pesticides. It would also establish buffer zones around schools, hospitals, homes and other areas, and require the county to conduct a study on the health and environmental impacts of the industry.

Provisions deleted from the bill last month include those that would have prohibited open-air testing of experimental pesticides and genetically modified organisms, established a permitting process and placed a temporary moratorium on the expansion of GMO fields.

County Managing Director Gary Heu said that while he respects it is the council’s responsibility to draft and move forward legislation, it is the administration’s responsibility to weigh in on certain issues.

“I would ask that you please not misinterpret anything we say today as being obstructionist in nature,” he said. “We want to work with this body, and others, to find a meaningful and appropriate way to address the issues.”

Heu said the council’s short timetable for implementing the ordinance is “unrealistic,” and that enforcing the bill’s provisions, with limited county resources, would be “challenging at best.”

Currently, there is nothing in the bill to prevent frivolous complaints related to pesticide violations, according to Heu.

“We would anticipate that we would be fielding numerous complaints, and possibly some complaints that may not deserve our serious attention,” he said.

In order to enforce Bill 2491, the administration estimated that it would need to hire at least one specialist, administrative personnel and a hearings officer. Other costs may include training for staff and investigative tools, such as GPS equipment and soil sample testing.

The total estimated cost is $1.48 million, including $125,000 made available by Dec. 1, according to Heu.

Heu said the county is dealing with a “highly technical subject matter with many layers of regulation already in place.” The administration recommended that the council not rush passage of the bill, but consider another deferral — this time of about two months.

Hooser said he disagreed with the administration that the bill would be complicated to enforce.

“I guess what frustrates me is I don’t see the need for big science when all we’re talking about is clarifying the buffer zones,” he said. “And we’re only talking about five companies that need to have enforcement.”

Bynum said the administration’s presentation represented a “worse case scenario,” and agreed enforcement would not be difficult since the companies are already keeping their own detailed pesticide records.

“(The companies) would actually have to falsify their records and commit fraud to create a situation where they violate this law,” he said. “They would have to doctor their own records.”

Although he was not inclined to at first, Councilman Mel Rapozo said he believed Carvalho and his team brought forward a viable solution Tuesday, and that he would consider supporting a deferral.

“I’m just trying to find what’s the best solution,” he said.

One thing that seemed to be missing from the mayor’s recommendation, according to Hooser, was a sense of urgency. He questioned whether the mayor has visited with doctors on the Westside who are concerned about high rates of birth defects.

“This is urgent,” Hooser said. “We don’t have 18 months or two years to wait for, maybe or maybe not, for the Legislature to do something. We don’t even know what they’re spraying.”

If the council votes “yes,” Hooser said the community would have disclosure in a month.

Carvalho agreed the situation is urgent, but said he wants to make sure that strong relationships are built with the state.

“I’m hoping we can get to that point with a deferral,” he said. “You’re talking to me as mayor? I need to know. I need to understand. We need to make the decision together.”

If the council does pass the bill, the administration suggested that it include specific guidelines for making complaints, penalties for frivolous complaints and a realistic time frame for implementation.

Bynum said there is no reason not to move forward with disclosure and buffer zones, and that he is frustrated it took introducing the bill to get people’s attention.

In closing, Bynum asked Carvalho if he would agree that 2491 has positive aspects, and if things that needed to happen are finally happening.

“There are positive things, and there are not so positive things,” Carvalho said.

The council will resume its discussion on Bill 2491 at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the Historic County Building.

• Chris D’Angelo, environmental reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or cdangelo@thegardenisland.com.

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