LIHU‘E — U.S. Rep. Kai Kahele spent the past week on Kaua‘i, analyzing coastal erosion along the Wailua corridor, touring Hanalei and meeting with nonprofits and officials, including walking through the site of a proposed missile-defense radar at the U.S. Navy Pacific Missile Range Facility at Barking Sands near Kekaha.
Elected last year, Kahele represents rural O‘ahu and the neighbor islands, after having served in the state Senate representing Hilo.
“I have an opportunity to represent, I think what is arguably the most beautiful congressional district in the entire country,” Kahele said Thursday afternoon. “I don’t think that’s a stretch because there are some beautiful, special places throughout Hawai‘i’s 2nd Congressional District.”
Part of the trip also included meeting with Ni‘ihau keiki in Kekaha and visiting local food banks in Lihu‘e and Anahola.
Kahele, still an active Hawai‘i Army National Guard member, departed Kaua‘i Thursday en route to O‘ahu for a day, then a drill weekend.
You went to Hanalei on Wednesday. How was it?
That was a good trip. We started off with a tour of the Hanalei River and the erosion that’s happening, the lack of maintenance along the streams, especially with, you know, non-native plants, hau bush rapidly growing and needs to be taken care of, but specifically portions of the highway that are right on the edge of the embankment and within the probably-not-too-distant future, if not addressed by the Department of Transportation, relevant highways have the potential to start collapsing into the river. So that was something of concern.
The Hanalei Bridge hasn’t really been maintained since 2003 and is in desperate need of maintenance.
We ended up at the Hanalei hillside, and that was probably the most-important thing for me yesterday.
The day after the hillside collapsed, the entire congressional delegation sent a letter to President Biden asking him to declare a presidential emergency declaration of a specific scope to reimburse through FEMA to the county and the state, what it would take to reopen the road and then secure the hillside and ensure that the hillside was safe to normal public access. So that’s what I wanted to see.
You really don’t get the full gravity of the hillside collapse on this unless you go there. You see it from the river, you see it from the top.
Infrastructure is an issue across the island, from failing bridges to highways. Were you able to see any of that on your trip?
I serve on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in the House, specifically on the Aviation Subcommittee on the Highways and Transit Subcommittee, so bridges, roads, highways, that’s what I’m most focused on throughout the entire 2nd Congressional District since the American Rescue Plan has been passed.
The congress and the Committee of Jurisdiction is actively working on both the surface-transportation bill, the larger infrastructure bill and appropriations bill and a national-defense bill, all at the same time. That’s what’s going to consume the next four to six months of my work and the work of the congress. Getting out into the community was really important.
One of the things that stood out the most was the coastal erosion and the dramatic effects of sea-level rise and climate change happening at the mouth of the Wailua River.
We pulled off there and walked across the bridge and went to where the entire shoreline is collapsing, where the concrete is collapsing, where trees no longer exist, where sandbags are barely holding up the shoreline.
That was a great example of coastal erosion, of sea-level rise, of the effects of climate change, of why we cannot put that off for another generation. We have to address it now. That’s something that’s going to have to be a major transportation project on this island.
Was that trip planned?
We actually drove by, and our driver said, “Just months ago, those trees were standing up, and now they’re down.”
So we did a whole day and we came back, parked, and I couldn’t believe it. That’s going to require federal-government help, and that’s going to require a whole government effort to address that and to come up with a plan for the future.
Residents’ minds are on the federal Homeland Defense Radar – Hawai‘i project. What is your perspective?
I have taken the position that I strongly support the Homeland Defense Radar.
I really believe that the defense of our country from threats in the western Pacific is something we need to take very seriously.
North Korea and the unpredictable nature of their leader — and really a rogue country — is something we need to take seriously. What’s the most important is China and how rapidly they are investing in and expanding their military.
The Homeland Defense Radar here in Hawai‘i, at the Pacific Missile Range Facility, is a critical part of the overall ballistic-missile sensors and national architecture, to detect a missile coming from the western Pacific.
I do not support it on the island of O‘ahu, and I support it on the island of Kaua‘i.
It’s a long process. I encourage people to make public comments. It (public-comment period) is open until April 12. This is just the first public consultation in a long process.
Were you able to tour the proposed site?
We went through the radar site, met with the base commander (Capt. Tim Young), and had a chance to tour the site.
One of the things that I brought up with him was archaeological sites and what would be the plan.
The environmental impact study would have a cultural-impact assessment done where they’ll have lineal descendants and do a lot of research on the area.
We know Polihale and the north fringes of the base, because of erosion or human intervention, they’ve uncovered iwi and burial sites they take care of. There’s a place on-site that they honor and there’s a caretaker.