LIHUE — The Kauai County Council will have at least another month to iron out the details on a proposed law that would declare air pollution that endangers public health or causes property damage a public nuisance. The seven-member board, by a 5-1 vote, gave their initial OK to the proposal outlined in Bill 2573 on Wednesday.
“If someone is doing something on the property next door that’s harming my house or harming the health of my mother and they’re doing it intentionally, then that should be against the law — there’s no question about it,” said Councilman Gary Hooser, who introduced the bill on Wednesday. “I know it’s a reasonable attempt to deal with an issue that’s in front of our community. There’s no question that, as much as we all like to talk about the good old days, smoke is not healthy and that’s just the bottom line.”
Council Vice Chair Ross Kagawa cast the sole dissenting vote against the bill after officials from the Office of the County Prosecutor, Kauai Police Department and Kauai Fire Department outlined their concerns about the bill.
“We’ve got to be responsible to our taxpayers and make sure that, when we do things, we do it the right way,” Kagawa said before casting his vote. “I think the intentions of Councilman Hooser are good, but the vehicle that we’re using is not.”
If approved, the bill would make it illegal and a public nuisance for “any person, firm, or corporation in the County of Kauai to intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly cause” smoke, soot, poisonous gases, dirt, dust or debris of any kind to escape into the open air that can injure a person’s health or damage property.
Penalties for violating the proposed law include a maximum $1,000 fine, a maximum 30-day jail term, or both.
Wailua Homesteads resident Dustin MacDonald said he is near his wits end and has tried to work with a neighboring homeowner on mitigating the smoke that emanates from their wood-burning fireplace.
That smoke, MacDonald contends, has made his children’s asthma symptoms worse.
“I live in my home and I want to live in a normal environment where I can raise my children,” MacDonald said. “You have to take your family and remove yourself from your house because it’s uninhabitable — that’s not right.”
Waimea resident Arthur Brun, who owns and operates an independent smoked meat business, said he is concerned about the bill’s broad reach and worries that it could adversely impact food producers like him as well as traditional imu practices.
He contended that civil courts, rather than the County Council, should take up the issue.
“We did enough bad bills here and cost taxpayers way too much money through bad legislation,” Brun told the seven-member board. “We need to fix the problem and not create a bigger problem. What this is going to do is cause more division on the island — it’s going to divide the people and citizens.”
“It troubles me to a certain extent when people led by the administration, quite frankly, try to frame this as a cultural thing — this is not a cultural issue,” Hooser said. “This is not taking the ability away from people to feed themselves — this is about the most egregious incidents.”
Councilman KipuKai Kualii was absent from the meeting and did not vote on the proposal.
The seven-member board also unanimously approved on first reading Bill 2574, which would cap real property taxes for properties with home use exemptions that received substantial tax increases due to the removal of the permanent home use tax credit, any changes in uses, increases in various tax rates, or the recalculation of their property taxes based on current fair market values.
A public hearing on both bills will be held before the County Council during their Feb. 11 meeting in the Historic County Building Council Chambers.
Public testimony on either bill can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.