LIHUE — The May 1 reopening of Kuhio Highway on the North Shore was the main topic at Wednesday’s town hall meeting held by Sen. Brian Schatz at Kauai War Memorial Convention Hall.
Chipper Wichman, president of the National Tropical Botanical Garden, asked Schatz if there was anything he could do to delay reopening the highway until the state parks and Limahuli Garden are officially open to the public.
“Without facilities, these people are essentially going to a dead end. Where are they going to turn around?” Wichman asked.
Wichman and Schatz both asked whether the acceptance of the $70 million plus in emergency funds to rebuild Kuhio Highway mandates the opening of the road as soon as it’s completed, or if it can be pushed back without financial consequences.
“It’s the $70 million question,” Wichman said. “And it needs to happen in the next week.”
Schatz pledged to do what he could to determine whether there is a federal requirement to reopen the road, or if the reopening is being influenced in other ways.
Kauai’s mid-April 2018 flood and the rebuilding project occupied a majority of the inquiries that were brought forward during the town hall meeting, which was attended by roughly 100 individuals.
Attendees asked about affordable housing, Rapid Ohi’a Death, the pending Thursday release of the Mueller Report, incarceration, technology, robocalls and climate change.
“I have an electric car, but it looks like we’re not doing enough,” Ruta Jordans said when she was at the mic.
Schatz said he understood.
“There isn’t a silver bullet (to mitigate climate change),” he responded. “But, I think there is silver buckshot. With the scale of this problem, we need to do all of it together to make the difference we need to make.”
That means investing in all types of renewable energy, making older methods and equipment more efficient, driving electric cars and other ways to reduce carbon footprints and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, Schatz added.
Being the chair of the newly launched Special Committee On The Climate Crisis, Schatz said he’s dedicated to climate action and believes America’s young people might just be the key to change.
Jordans was encouraged by the response.
“He’s doing things,” she said after the town hall meeting. “There’s hope.”
Schatz also touched on championing a new carbon bill that would reduce emissions that are energy-related by 51 percent by 2029. Kauai, he said, is already on that renewable road and will provide an example for the rest of the country.
Ray Catania spoke up for the residents of the Courtyards at Waipouli, who are facing an August eviction date due to an expiring contract with the county.
“They need help,” Catania said.
Schatz said he would most certainly follow up with the situation, not only to see what he can do for the families but also to potentially stop the units from leaving the designation of affordable housing.
“That’s a lot of units,” Schatz said.
He pointed out Kauai needs to build 2,500 affordable housing units to match the population needs.
“Whatever I do, it’s not going to be enough, but I think we need density,” the senator said.
That means building more and increasing the housing supply, which would bring prices down and lead to more reasonable housing costs, he said.
Councilwoman Felicia Cowden inquired about inmates and the recidivism rate for correctional centers, particularly the Kauai Community Correctional Center. She voiced some of the concerns of Jo Amsterdam.
“Education for inmates,” Amsterdam said. “Deterrents is where we need to focus, keeping people out of jail to begin with.”
Jessica Else, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0452 or at firstname.lastname@example.org