To defer, or not to defer

LIHUE — Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr.’s recommendation that the Kauai County Council defer Bill 2491 for two months stirred up a wide range of reactions Wednesday.

A release sent out by StopPoisoningParadise.org said the mayor’s presentation during the council meeting highlighted an “ill-considered analysis and lack of willingness to act.”

“All this rhetoric about ‘coming together to get educated and better understand what is going on’ … it just doesn’t make sense to those of us in the community who have been raising concerns for years, or to council members who have spent the past months working very hard to think through the technical details of the bill,” Fern Rosenstiel, a bill proponent, said in the release.

The Office of the Mayor pushed back at the StopPoisoningParadise.org release with a release of its own. It said the mayor is “not opposing Bill 2491,” but rather providing input to the council before they finalize the bill, so that the best possible decisions can be made.

“The deferral is being requested specifically so that the county can work with the Department of Agriculture to determine if enforcement can be provided by that agency — which is already structured to do so,” the county stated. “If an agreement can’t be reached within the requested time frame, our assumption is that the council would then act upon the bill as they see fit.”

Councilman Gary Hooser, who co-introduced the bill in June with Councilman Tim Bynum, said Wednesday he was “surprised”  the mayor and his staff were not more familiar with the bill and its anticipated impact on the county. He also said delaying for another two months would be a disservice to the community.

 “We have the information and we’ve had a robust discussion,” he said. “We can talk and build relationships all we want, but that’s not going to require disclosure or buffer zones.”

Alicia Maluafiti, executive director of the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association, said her organization fully supports the mayor’s recommendation.

“I think we always have been willing to have a dialogue,” she said. “It’s really hard to have a dialogue when a bill drafted as it was really intended to put the companies out of business.”

She described the amended version of Bill 2491 — which deals only with disclosure, buffer zones and an environmental and health study — as “better than it was before, because it did take out very onerous, anti-GMO provisions.”

During Tuesday’s meeting, Councilman Mel Rapozo said a deferral was a viable solution he would consider supporting.

Although she has not yet made a final decision, Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura said Wednesday she was “somewhat open” to a deferral, as it would give her additional time to figure out loose ends on the buffer zone provision of the bill.

“I would be OK with it if at the end of two months, if the Department of Ag chose not to cooperate, we would be able to move forward with the bill,” she said.

If there is a deferral, Yukimura said she would request an update after the first month to see what progress, if any, had been made.

Council Chair Jay Furfaro said Wednesday “nobody went wrong because they had too much information.”

Bynum said he appreciated the mayor and his staff being present Tuesday and understands his concerns about working together. However, he was “disappointed” Carvalho and his staff were not more aware of the status of the situation in Waimea.

While he thinks the full council may take the mayor’s recommendation into consideration, Bynum said the provisions in the amended bill are not complex and should move forward soon.

Council members Nadine Nakamura, Ross Kagawa and Mel Rapozo could not be reached Wednesday afternoon for comment.

Andrea Brower, a bill proponent, stated in a release Wednesday that while it was not the mayor’s intentions she was questioning, it is “fairly obvious that the companies have had a strong influence in pushing the administration to feel so overwhelmed.”

“Kauai’s people and policy makers need to be firm and bold,” she said. “We cannot let the companies bully us into believing that we are incapable of doing anything. Our hands are not tied — it is well past time for action.”

The county responded Monday by saying the administration is merely trying to be proactive in assisting the council with passing legislation that has a solid legal and operational foundation, so that it can be successfully implemented when passed.

“We are not questioning whether the bill should be passed,” the county wrote. “We are merely trying to provide suggestions on the most effective and cost-effective way to achieve the bill’s intent.”

If passed in its current form, the bill would require Kauai’s largest agricultural companies 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.

The Kauai County Council will resume its discussion of Bill 2491 at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the History County Building.

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

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