PUHI — Hawaii Senate President Ron Kouchi threw his weight behind the expansion of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument at a public meeting Tuesday night at the Kauai Community College’s Performing Arts Center.
The announcement was a change of opinion from his first thoughts detailed in an April letter to President Obama stating his opposition.
“When Senator Schatz talked about his proposal and I looked at it, I believe it presented a middle path where we could achieve the goals of environmental concerns and preservation for future generations while addressing fishing concerns,” Kouchi said.
Around 200 people showed up at the meeting hosted by the Obama Administration to gather feedback from Hawaii’s people on the potential expansion of the monument, which would establish the largest protected marine area in the world.
Since the beginning of the conversation, proponents of the expansion and the Native Hawaiian Cultural Working group that proposed the expansion have been gathering supporters.
On Kauai, more than a dozen restaurants have joined a list supporting the expansion and thousands statewide have added their support to the expansion letter.
Tuesday’s testimony was roughly evenly split between those opposed and those supporting the monument.
Many of those testifying at the Tuesday night meeting said they’d be in support of the monument expansion, if there is Native Hawaiian management of the monument.
Kawika Riley, with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, said that is very much part of the proposal.
He said OHA’s board voted to adopt the expansion proposition with the condition that the federal government elevate OHA to co-trustee status.
“I’m for it if it will be managed and decisions made about it by Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners, who knows better to take care of that place,” said Kauai resident Puanani Rogers. “I would like it to be run by native people that know the place, who is going to manage this?”
Rogers said she is still deciding her opinion on the monument expansion and cautioned against rushing forward with the expansion with too many unanswered questions.
Governance of the monument was also a point of concern for Leilani Josselin, who said she’d like to see more Native Hawaiian influence over management.
She said she does see a benefit to expanding the monument when it comes to the military, however.
“I think with this expansion there will be more accountability with the military presence,” Josselin said. “After the first expansion, there was an increase in the military presence.”
Keith Robinson, also a Kauai resident and part owner of the island of Niihau, also touched on the military’s presence in the monument, however he’s against the expansion of the monument.
“I’m against the expansion of the reserve because I don’t want environmentalists to have an excuse to cripple Navy operations,” Robinson said.
The use of the Antiquities Act to designate the expansion was also a point of contention.
“I’m adamantly opposed to the use of the Antiquities Act to resolve a cultural and scientific issue,” said Lynn McNutt. “Isn’t intended to be used to close more than half of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) around Kauai, we need a rational discussion based on real studies before we decide on a course of action.”
Carl Berg, marine biologist and Kauai resident, said he’s also opposed to the use of the Antiquities Act.
“I don’t buy into the need we must pass this through the Antiquities Act right way, I don’t think we should run this quick through,” Berg said. “This needs to go through an EIS (environmental impact study).”
Greg Holzman, fisherman on Kauai, said his suggestion is to take time with the expansion as well.
“What bothers me is that all the sudden our EEZ would be chopped in half,” Holzman said.
Those in support identified preservation of cultural, scientific, and historical resources.
“This is the community that is closest this proposal, our Hawaiian family urges you to expand,” said Maka’ala Kaaumoana. “Our ancestors lived there, our stories tell of this place, we are asking you to expand the protections of this incredible world resource.”
Matt Bermabe, a shoreline fisherman who lives on Kauai, said he still has a lot of questions about the monument, but he liked the idea of having a chance to get some management back for Native Hawaiians.
“The water is already under federal control,” Bernabe said. “I support it because it sounds like we’re getting something back.”
Hawaii State Rep. Jimmy Tokioka acknowledged that many people want to see a compromise and are open to some sort of expansion.
“If we’re going to give it a Hawaiian name, let’s have Hawaiians sitting at the table,” Tokoika said. “We need more information and we need more time for discussion.”
Jessica Else, environmental reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or firstname.lastname@example.org.