Storywise, it’s been quite a year.
Everyone probably remembers Bill 2491, the back and forth, the Mana March, the veto, the override, the threats. And who can forget Jeff Horton, who punched a shark in the nose and lived to tell about it? Lots of people wanted to hear Horton’s story, too, No. 9 on our list. Media agencies from New York to San Francisco, including Diane Sawyer’s office, called The Garden Island looking to cover the surfer after TGI ran its story.
Below are the Top 10 stories as ranked by the editorial department. It was tough leaving some stories off, like the one about 72-year-old Pam Dohrman, who survived two nights in the woods after getting lost hiking, but the list has to end somewhere. Some of top feel-good stories, like Dohrman’s, are featured in today’s Our View, but here’s a look at our top headlines in 2013.
1. Bill 2491 — Pass.
Bill 2491 related to pesticides and genetically modified crops survived its five-month-long legislative saga and passed into law.
The Kauai County Council approved the controversial measure by a 6-1 vote in October, only to have it vetoed by Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr.
In the end, 2491’s fate fell on the shoulders of the council’s newest member Mason Chock, who was sworn in the day before the council cast its final vote to override the mayor’s veto.
While some had urged Chock to recuse himself because he was so new to the debate, he said that was not an option for him — that he had “been called to act.”
“If I’ve been given the opportunity to make a difference in the health of a child’s life, I’m going to take it,” he said.
Chock’s vote officially reversed the first-ever veto of a bill by Carvalho in his five years in office.
Ordinance 960 (formerly Bill 2491), which goes into effect in August, requires the island’s four biotech seed companies and Kauai Coffee to disclose their use of pesticides and genetically modified organisms and establish buffer zones around schools, hospitals and other sensitive areas.
The county will also study whether the industry is having negative impact on the environment and public health.
After being introduced in June by council members Gary Hooser and Tim Bynum, the bill brought national attention to the Garden Isle.
People marched in the streets. Lawsuits were promised by agricultural industry.
The mayor was threatened following his veto, prompting security to screen for weapons before the final meetings. And the state got involved when the Hawaii Department of Agriculture announced a new voluntary program for pesticide-use and buffer zones.
2. Drownings plague Kauai
One year ago, the Kauai Lifeguard Association printed a half-page advertisement in The Garden Island, describing 2012 as the “best statistical ocean safety year in recorded history.”
“Let’s do it again, maybe even better!” was the ad’s final message.
Unfortunately, 2013 proved tragic with 17 drownings compared to just four — two ocean and two freshwater — the year prior.
In January and February alone there were eight fatalities, including six tourists.
The most recent drowning occurred in November, when 58-year-old Douglas Sposato, of New York, was pulled from the water fronting Lawai Beach Resort.
3. Renewed hope
for Coco Palms
It was a big year for the long-vacant Coco Palms Resort in Wailua, which served as the backdrop for the 1961 Elvis Presley movie “Blue Hawaii.”
In May, the Kauai Planning Commission affirmed an order made in January to revoke demolition permits originally filed by then owner Coco Palms Ventures, LLC in 2005 to rebuild the hotel.
Things took an unexpected turn when a new group of investors from Coco Palms Hui, LLC announced plans to purchase the property from Coco Palms Ventures and revitalize the hotel. When the County Council considered a bill to repeal the remaining Iniki ordinance, the new investors asked the seven-member board to delay the repeal so they could secure proper building permits and be exempt from certain height and setback requirements approved since 1992.
Earlier this month, the County Council agreed to delay the repeal of the ordinance for two years.
4. Coral disease draws
attention of NOAA
A study into a deadly coral disease outbreak along Kauai’s North Shore continued in 2013 with a team of scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Led by NOAA coral disease specialist Bernardo Vargas-Angel, the four-man team arrived on Kauai in late April and spent one week collecting data and conducting surveys in order to better understand the prevalence and distribution.
In an earlier 2012 report, Dr. Thierry Work, head of infectious disease for U.S. Geological Survey, described the rapidly spreading cyanobacterial disease on Kauai as an “epidemic” — unlike anything he had ever seen.
Until earlier this year, the disease was thought to be exclusive to the common rice coral. After returning to Kauai in April, however, Work confirmed that blue rice corals — another species of Montipora — were also suffering from lesions.
NOAA is proposing to list 66 coral species under the Endangered Species Act, one of which is the blue rice coral.
5. Pier dedication
About 100 people turned out May 30 to celebrate the completion of the canopy of the Hanalei Pier and the reopening of the historic structure.
The project was funded by the Rotary Club of Hanalei Bay, which raised nearly $190,000 that paid for the construction and created an account to provide perpetual maintenance for the famous pier that has been part of Hanalei for more than a century.
The Rotary Club took on the fundraiser for the renovation after seeing the pier deteriorate and learning the state might have to tear it down because it had become a safety hazard.
It took more than two years to raise the money, well worth the effort, said Rotarian George Corrigan.
“It means something to everyone on the North Shore,” he said.
6. Hilario sentenced to life
A 5th Circuit jury on March 8 found Vicente Kotekapika Hilario, 26, of Anahola, guilty in the first-degree murder of 34-year-old Aureo Eric Moore at Anahola Beach Park on Dec. 17, 2010.
Chief Judge Randal Valenciano sentenced Hilario to the mandatory life term on July 16, for murder, witness intimidation, retaliating against a witness and bribery of a witness.
“This was a brutal, brutal killing,” Valenciano said.
Witnesses testified that Hilario shot Moore to prevent him from testifying at a robbery trial that occurred that August on the Waipouli Safeway walking bridge. Moore was shot five times, with a sixth shot grazing his chest, and died three hours later at Wilcox Memorial Hospital.
Angienora Crawford testified that she agreed to lure Moore to Anahola on the pretext of buying Oxycodone pills but was not aware that Hilario intended to kill him.
Moore was standing on the park road overlook when Hilario, Kyler Hansen Loo, and David Manaku reportedly emerged from the brush and shot Moore to death execution style.
7. Smart meter fees
lead to special election
The controversy surrounding smart meters heated up in November after the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative received approval to charge additional fees for those customers who opt not to use the technology.
A special ballot election beginning Friday will allow co-op members to weigh-in on whether the costs of reading and servicing old electric meters — an estimated $340,000 per year — be shared by the entire utility or remain with those who opt not to use them.
The fees include a one-time set-up charge (ranging from $50.64 to $138.80) and a $10.27 monthly fee.
While KIUC says the technology is safe and increases efficiency, some community members have voiced concerns about health and privacy.
About 3,000 of the utility’s 30,000 customers have opted not to have a wireless smart meter. The upcoming election is expected to cost $63,000.
8. Longs Drugs
Officials from CVS pharmacy, the parent company of Longs Drugs, created a stir in June when they announced plans to build a new store at the corner of Aleka Loop and Kuhio Highway in Waipouli on what is now a coconut grove on vacant land.
Plans call for the development of a $7 million, 23,200-square-foot store and drive-up pharmacy, with 97 parking stalls. The proposed building and parking lot, according to an arborist report, will displace 54 of the current trees on the site.
Plans also call for the planting of 12 new trees to match the number of trees that existed prior to redevelopment and replacement of at least 25 trees along Kuhio Highway and Aleka Loop.
CVS officials said they want to shutter the Longs Drugs store in the Kauai Village shopping center and relocate to the proposed project site because their lease is scheduled to end in November 2014. But the nature and location of the project attracted opposition from residents, visitors and condominium owners concerned about traffic and visual impacts, noise, potential zoning noncompliance, increased crime and flooding.
The Planning Commission approved the proposal in October.
9. Man fights off shark
Jeff Horton didn’t just escape a shark’s attack the morning of Sunday, Oct. 20. He fought the shark. He hit. He pummeled. He landed some shots.
It was, in his own words, “do or die.”
And he didn’t want to die.
“I finally got one nice punch into the eye,” the 25-year-old said. “I put some really good hits on it, for sure.”
Horton and others had been surfing about three hours at Pilaa Beach near Kilauea when he was sitting on his surfboard some 200 yards from shore waiting to catch a wave, legs hanging in the water. He looked down to his left and saw a large shape coming toward him.
The shark went after Horton’s left leg, but the surfer yanked it up as the jaws clamped down on his board.
The impact rolled Horton off the board and onto the shark. He latched on with one hand, punched with the other.
It was when the former boxer jammed his knuckle into the shark’s eye, it retreated.
The shark spit the board out and flung Horton a few feet into the air. He scrambled back on his board, stunned, and with the help of another surfer caught a wave and paddled for shore.
The three-year Kauai resident and long-time surfer escaped with no injuries. The shark left a semi-circle imprint of its jaws, an inch deep in the yellow, seven-foot surf board.
10. Larger ‘danger zone’
Earlier this month, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved the Navy’s request for an expanded danger zone in the waters fronting the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai’s Westside.
Beginning Jan. 15, the area of ocean will roughly triple in size, encompass about 7 miles of coastline — from Barking Sands to Kokole Point — and extend between 2.96 and 4.19 nautical miles out to sea.
The Corps’ decision came months after the proposal drew fire from local residents.
PMRF says the modification will ensure public safety as the base moves toward scheduled launches of microsatellites from its new southern launch pad, part of the University of Hawaii and NASA’s Super Strypi Project.
Historically, closures occur an average of 25 times per year.
In May, the Hawaii Army National Guard announced a separate but similar proposal for an expanded danger zone in the waters surrounding the Kekaha Rifle Range. The Guard later withdrew the proposal, citing a mistake by a project manager.