Kauai heading down a slippery slope

I feel compelled to write this viewpoint out of concern for what I see developing on Kauai.  I retired as President and Manager of Gay & Robinson in 2010 and my 20 years on Kauai were probably the happiest and most memorable during my 44 years working in the sugar industry. The workers at Gay & Robinson were the most productive, cooperative and understanding of any work force I was ever associated with.

The people of Kauai were also most congenial and supportive, especially during and after Hurricane Iniki, when everyone pulled together for the good of Kauai. However, now I see a community being pulled apart because of the GMO debate. I recognize that there are many people who are worried about GMO crops.  

I am not one of those, but the concerns being expressed come from strong convictions whether real or imagined. That being said, to mount a campaign to shut down the corn companies and put many people out of work particularly those on the Westside of Kauai is, to put it mildly, unconscionable! The anti-GMO movement recognized early on in their campaign that to further their agenda they would need to have a reason to apply pressure on the corn companies so they would leave Kauai.  

Kauai is now embroiled with Bill 2491 that would  further regulate farm operations by suggesting there is a health issue. I have been following the debate with great interest and I believe Councilman Hooser has caused a schism in the community by pandering to the anti-GMO movement. He certainly is not showing any kind of aloha to the folks on the Westside by this nonsense. Where is his aloha in all of this – that same spirit that used to thrive on Kauai? Is the councilman seriously trying to destroy the aloha spirit with his blinkered and tunnel-vision approach to this issue?

When I arrived in the islands in 1976, the population of Kauai was 34,000. Today it is 68,000 plus. Agriculture was the driving force of the economy. People looked after each other and the aloha spirit was alive and well. After Hurricane Iniki, the aloha spirit was furthered bolstered by the actions of the community, who pulled together and actually cared for one another after that awful disaster.

When Lihue Sugar Plantation installed its new power generation facility in the early 1980s, the power grid on Kauai had more than 50 percent of its power derived from alternate energy. What an incredible achievement that was. When the sugar companies began to fall on hard times, the land owners began to look at alternate means to get value from their assets (and no, that isn’t a bad thing).

Obviously, the land with the highest value is Poipu. In the area where sugar once thrived, you may have noticed a burgeoning tourist industry (no, not a bad thing either). Luxury homes and condo developments have appeared. The traffic on the South Shore and Westside is incredible. With the increased population comes increased pollution (not a good thing). Has Mr. Hooser not noticed this?  In 1992, Hurricane Iniki hit with devastating consequences, however, the aloha spirit still lived and we all pulled together.  

The devastation that wrecked havoc on the island resulted with the Kekaha Landfill becoming a landfill. It is very important to understand what took place. There was an effort to separate the debris, recycle those components that might have further use and relieve stress on the landfill. However, after years of debate, nearly all of the recycled debris eventually landed in Kekaha.  

I don’t want to focus on the separated debris but take a look back to what eventually took up residence in the landfill immediately after the temporary burning of the waste. There were four temporary dump sites located around the island.

Mayor Yukimura initially allowed  burning of the trash to alleviate the stress on the landfill. The communities complained because of the pungent smells and smoke, causing discomfort with breathing difficulties resulting from the noxious gases coming from the burn sites. The burning of the debris was discontinued and all items that could not be salvaged were taken to an expanded landfill in Kekaha.

Buried garbage, which includes food and green matter begins to compost and creates a tremendous amount of heat. Batteries, solvents, paints and chemicals that were dumped in the landfill also begin to burn slowly, which gives off noxious and poisonous gases. These gases eventually rise to the surface and into the atmosphere of the Westside of Kauai.

I encourage any reader to Google, “landfills and environmental problems associated with this method of disposal.” I am convinced this will be far more disturbing and cause more alarm than anything else being considered as contributing to the health problem that might exist on the Westside of Kauai. Knowing that the Kekaha landfill accepted all of the Iniki debris should be a major cause of concern for everyone on Kauai, especially those in the Kekaha area.

May I suggest that some real science and health studies be conducted by the state Health Department on behalf of the Westside communities in order to determine if there are any real health problems with the landfill. Councilman Hooser seems to believe there are health issues on the Westside and has recently suggested that Gov. Neil Abercrombie should pay a visit to the doctors and medical professionals on the Westside to hear their concerns for himself. Should it be determined there is health problem, then it should be dealt with in the appropriate manner.

1. The health issue should be determined and the major cause should be identified.

2. Solutions to deal with the problem need to also be identified.

The place to begin should be with the health profile of the workers in the farming community directly involved with crop chemicals, (i.e. herbicides and pesticides), followed by the health profiles of their immediate families. Concurrently with this study, one should be conducted at the Kekaha Landfill. Air quality, ground contamination and water contamination studies should begin immediately. Wouldn’t it be a travesty of justice if Bill 2491 passed, resulting in the corn companies pulling up stakes and the alleged health problems that might exist still continue? Unfortunately, the anti-GMO movement would be happy because they, like Councilman Hooser, want to see GMOs gone from Kauai.  

Councilman Hooser will feel good because he would have bolstered his political support off the backs of the hardworking farmers of Kauai and their employees. Kauai’s economy would suffer and land owners would need to consider alternative means of managing their assets. Come on, good people of Kauai, recognize what is going on. The majority of the opposition to GMO is coming from transplanted mainlanders who will stop at nothing to further their agendas.  Look at what happened to the Superferry and the angry protesters who came out to prevent what would have been a tremendous asset to the outer islands.  

Those of us who went through Iniki will reflect and remember what the Superferry could have done for us in the immediate aftermath of that terrible disaster. It could have helped the tourists who were stranded on the island get home sooner. It could have relieved pressure on the local families who could have sent family members off-island to family members where there was running water and electricity. Sports teams would have been able to take equipment and vehicles over to Oahu and, of course, there would have been more competition  for the airlines to keep fares reasonable. Too late now. Does anyone think of these things whilst promoting their own self-centered agendas? Obviously not.

I now live in the Pacific Northwest and have had time to ponder one of the biggest claims of the Superferry opponents: the impacts on the Humpback Whales. The Pacific Northwest/Puget Sound is home to large pods of orca and Humpback whales. Consider this, the largest ferry system in the U.S. and Canada ply these waters, including large fleets of freighters, which sail in and out of the ports of Tacoma and Seattle. The number of recreational boaters using the waters in this area are huge – probably the largest in country. Do we have a problem with boating and the whales? No.

It has always amazed me what idiotic reasons the anti-establishment crowd will identify as reason, it doesn’t even have to be based on facts. It is all hype, fear and innuendo to further their own agenda and a total lack of being willing to “debate” fairly both sides of the issue. Sound familiar? Come on people of Kauai, do not let these people have their own way. Stand up. They do not have your best interest at heart!

I hope for the good people of Kauai that Bill 2491 is deferred until a full investigation is undertaken on Kauai that determines whether or not there are actually any real health issues on the Westside of Kauai, and if so, what is the main cause and then what appropriate action should be adopted to deal with it. Councilmen Hooser and Bynum, by their actions, have put the rest of the County Council in a very difficult situation.  

Nobody wants to make a decision if safety and health is at stake anywhere in the community. To raise the level of concern with unsubstantiated facts is unconscionable and unworthy of an elected official. If Councilman Hooser truly is concerned with safety and health, then let him please focus on how that should be determined and deal with the findings in a professional manner. Maybe then, Mr. Hooser, more people might consider you capable of some day becoming a trusty and worthy mayor for all the people of Kauai.

• E. Alan Kennett is a former Kauai resident who lives in Blaine, Wash.

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