Here's a bit of news from the last few months on the Big Island of Hawaii -
Travel News - In June, United Airlines started flying a 2nd daily San Francisco flight to the Big Island. The 757 flight will add more than 35,000 new seats to the island in the second half of 2002. Kona now has two direct United flights each from San Francisco and from L.A. In May, "domestic arrivals rose slightly..., but overall international arrivals were down 12.9% from the previous year. Visitor arrivals are down 10.4%, with international arrivals down 21.9%". Japanese tourist were down 8.3% from May of 2001, but have improved markedly since "9/11".
A report by Hospitality Advisors LLC shows many "value packages with free additional nights" are being offered to travelers, which encourage visitors to stay longer in Hawaii, and to a certain degree, help offset the falloff in visitor arrivals. Hotel revenues down 11 percent from April 2001, though, and the Big Island's occupancy rate was 57.4%, down from 61.7% last April.
Legislation News - The County Council approved Mayor Kim's proposal for a property tax increase to compensate for a $7.6 million shortfall in next year's budget. Also, Hawaii House and Senate negotiators approved a measure to set a "gas price cap" that would go into effect on July 1st of next year. Supporters of the bill say that information gained from the state's recently settled price-fixing lawsuit against oil companies shows that there is no economic reason why Hawaii's gasoline prices are typically among the highest in the country. The bill includes a safety valve that would allow next year's Legislature to delay the start date of the measure if a study done during the interim proves it to be not economically viable. In another legislative move, Mazie Hirono, while filling in for Gov. Ben Cayetano during his recent trip to Asia, signed into law a bill allowing Hawaii's counties to station lifeguards at state-owned beaches without the risk of being sued in cases of injuries or deaths at those beaches. The law will stay in effect for 5 years, to allow "for an evaluation of this measure after sufficient experience has been obtained."
Litigation News - The Office of Hawaiian Affairs has filed a federal lawsuit against NASA, seeking an environmental impact statement for 6 proposed telescopes atop Mauna Kea. The $50 million NASA-funded Keck Outrigger expansion would add 4 outrigger telescopes, which would be constructed in 2002 around the existing, larger, twin Keck telescopes. Plans include two more scopes possibly being built in 2007.
OHA filed the lawsuit, which seeks an order compelling NASA to prepare an environmental impact statement to assess the impacts that the telescopes would have on cultural and natural resources, after NASA published a "final environmental assessment" finding the project will have "no significant impact" on Mauna Kea.
The developer of Hokulia, the subdivision adjacent to Kealakekua Bay which includes 700 luxury residential lots of one to three acres, a 18-hole golf course, a members lodge, clubhouse, pavilion, tennis courts, and other amenities, paid an out of court settlement of $30,000 to four Kona residents (Walter J. Kelly, Charles R. Flaherty, Patrick M. Cunningham and Michelle C. Wilkins), who sued as public service litigants after mud flowed into the ocean from the development into Kealakekua Bay more than a year ago. The four recipients are donating the money from Hokulia to renovate the boat ramp at Keauhou Bay and upgrade rainfall maps for Hawaii County. In April, Judge Ronald Ibarra ruled that Hokulia development is an illegal use of agricultural land, but did not stop the project, since Mayor Stephen Yamashiro's administration entered into a binding agreement with the developer that compels Hawaii County to protect Hokulia's right to develop the subdivision.
Very confusing, indeed. We suggest you visit the "Keep Kealakekua Wild" web site to view the current status of the project, court rulings, etc. More unearthed human remains from Hawaiian burials have been found at the site development, as well, stored in inappropriate, disrespectful ways, and the disturbed state of the portion of the historic Ala Loa Trail found on Hokulia property is also under much scrutiny by those who wish it to be preserved. To be continued...
Regarding construction of the Mamalahoa Bypass Hwy.
- Robert Ferrari kept us posted about a meeting he went to with Peter Young, Office of the Mayor: "...as of today, work is continuing on the road. The new estimated cost is somewhere around $40 million...the road must be completely complete (per the county's requirement) before it can be used as a by-pass. Initially it will run from Keauhou (where construction is taking place) into Hokuli'a, but that's it. Once it's done, which must be within five years (according to the contract with the developer), it will connect with the Napoopoo turnoff and also (be) accessed through Kona Scenic (subdivision)." As you might know, Kona's traffic congestion is getting worse and worse. (OK, I can hear all those mainland snorts - but, hey, it's all relative! "Bumper to bumper" is "bumper to bumper", whether it's on 2 lanes or 6.) Robert ended his post by recommending that newcomers to the island move here with a very good attitude and a lot of patience!
Land Developments - Kealakekua Ranch fell out of escrow in April and is back on the market. The 11,184 acre former ranch mauka of Captain Cook was targeted for luxury homes in an "equestrian subdivision". The purchase of the 542 acre Kohanaiki property, known as "Pine Trees", to a Silicon Valley couple has fallen through, as well. The couple says the deal turned sour for them when they read an anti-development piece in West Hawaii Today shortly before their decision-to-buy deadline. Planning Director Chris Yuen is proposing open status for the property, which would require a developer "to take one more step in order to obtain the necessary designation from the county".
Also of note, the Kailua Village Design Commission voted unanimously against a proposed 200 unit, multi-family residential subdivision proposed for the triangular property bordered by Alii Dr., Walua Rd., and Lunapule Rd. It would have required a zoning change to a multi-family residential zone, from a minimum of 10,000 sq. ft. single family residential lots. The Design Commission was concerned with the added density and traffic that would have been created, and the use of Waiaha Bay, or Honl's surf spot. And the State Land Use Commission has rejected a petition by Lanihau Partners to reclassify more than 330 acres mauka of Honokohau Harbor so that it may develop a $9 million commercial park.
Many problems were pointed out by the Commission, including drinking water availability, generation of solid waste, air quality assessments, and energy needs. The Honokohau Harbor privatization bill was killed in the Senate, leaving investors Honokohau Marina Partners LLC stymied. They were ready to invest $100 million over the next 10 years in the expansion and improvement of the harbor.
Utility News - Hawaii Electric Light Co. (HELCO) and a wind farm being built by Hawi Renewable Development have completed negotiations for a power plant to be built at Upolu Point, at the northernmost point of the Big Island. If approved by the Public Utilities Commission, the plant could be up and running in 6 months. Each megawatt of power from the plant would be able to provide electricity for about 220 homes. About 30% of HELCO's power comes from renewable sources, "if Puna Geothermal Venture is able to provide 30 megawatts of energy", said Warren Lee, HELCO president. HELCO does need backup, he said, for the wind farms for "when the wind doesn't blow". 60% of the power on HELCO's grid is supplied by independent power producers, including Puna Geothermal and Hamakua Energy Partners at its cogeneration plant.
More Utility Plans - According to West HI. Today, a $500,000 appropriation by the state to develop a water master plan between Hookena and South Point has given residents of that vast area "hope that they may someday have county water in at least portions of their subdivisions". The county Dept. of Water has announced it will abandon one of the sources for drinking water in Pahala and spend $1 million to drill a new well deep enough to serve the 1,300 residents of the area.
Other News - is that the Hilo landfill is expected to reach its maximum capacity in 2004, and the county is already preparing to haul the trash collected at 14 different chutes in East Hawaii, from Pahala to Honomu, and including Hilo and Puna, to Kona's Pu'uanahulu Landfill when that happens. The cost to shut down the Hilo landfill will be between $10 to $14 million, including the installation of a gas collection system and gas and heat probes. Although the county has paid for two Integrated Solid Waste Management Plans, one in 1993, the year the landfill was first expected to close and one this year, both recommending implementation of a recycling program along with some kind of waste reduction facility using either "anaerobic digestion, gasification or incineration", no such facility has been built, even though 10 years have passed since the first plan was received... Park News - A lava-ignited fire in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park started May 17th and burned 3,660 acres in a month's time. Portions of Chain of Craters road were closed during that period. Firefighters were brought in from California and Arizona to help with the fire, and rain, high humidity and overcast skies also helped the fire suppression efforts. The bill to expand Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park (a.k.a. Place of Refuge) by 397 acres has passed the House and now will go to the Senate, after which it will head to President Bush. The land includes the ruins of Kiilae Village, which was inhabited for about 800 years before being abandoned in the 1930's.
Our Heroes - An anonymous donation of $100,000 received at the beginning of June, will help build a nuclear medicine suite at Kona Community Hospital's new Imaging Center. The donation brings the non-profit organization's fund raising drive to more than $375,000 in cash and pledges. The goal is $5 million. For more info. about the Campaign for Renewal drive, call 808/322-4587. And, The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii has signed an agreement to purchase 24 oceanfront acres at Kamehame Beach in Ka'u to help ensure protection of the endangered Hawaiian hawksbill turtle, according to a special report to West Hawaii Today newspaper
- IF the Conservancy can raise the $85,000 purchase price by July 31st, 2002. The land is northeast of Pahala, and will be acquired from C. Brewer. Chris Swenson, Pacific Islands Coastal Program coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, says that "Kamehame Beach is the single most important hawksbill nesting beach in the country and one of the most important in the Pacific." The beach also provides safe habitat for endangered green sea turtles and monk seals. The purchase will bring to nearly 9,500 acres the total of Big Island land under the auspices of the Nature Conservancy.
And Our Villains - A pair of men were convicted in June for illegally catching aquarium fish in a newly created Fish Replenishment Area. One of the men was a former president of the Aquarium Fish Council, who was convicted of taking aquatic life for aquarium purposes, diving without an appropriate dive flag, taking aquarium fish without a state permit, and fishing with an illegal net. The men had been caught in 2000 in the Milolii Fish Replenishment Area. The convictions carry monetary fines, which will be meted out on August 7th. Studies currently show that the yellow tang is no longer decreasing in our protected waters, which encompass 35% of the west Hawaii Island shoreline. They are still declining in open, non-protected areas, however, according to a West Hawaii Aquarium Project study.
Another Rare Treasure - Koa wood thievery is on the rise statewide, with its rising value creating a black market for the hardwood. Koa is used to make everything from ukuleles to canoes. When mature, one tree can produce tens of thousands of dollars worth of finished koa products. It is not an endangered tree, but it is becoming more scarce because of logging and land clearing for ag production and cattle grazing. It is mostly found on private land, and harvesting of what koa is found on state land is limited to trees that have fallen on their own. There is a huge shortage of officers who can patrol the forests, so they must "rely heavily on tips and good, solid information".
Remember hearing of the discovery back in 1997 that more than $50,000 was missing from the Kealakehe Police Station evidence room? Well, after 2 years of review by the county prosecutor, no charges will be filed..."Insufficient evidence" was the reason Big Island Prosecutor Jay Kimura gave for not filing any charges, and he related difficulty not only in pinpointing who took the money, but when. Police say they have implemented new security measures island wide to safeguard against more evidence thefts.
Andrea Hauber, West HI Today journalist, wrote in April that "Only 35 of 50 patrol positions in the Kona Police Division are staffed with working officers". The number of officers for the North and South Kona Districts have not increased proportionately with the increase in population from 1990 to present. Vacant positions have not been filled, and, because sworn officers must work longer hours and on their days off, a lot of overtime pay is having to be paid. There are not enough qualified applicants, according to Major Charles Chai of Hilo Police Division. Fewer than half of the applicants pass the written/physical tests. Chai added that he thinks beginning pay for patrol officers needs to be increased. Dept. of Civil Service Director of Personnel Michael Ben said pay for police recruits is $31,812, and goes to $34,356 when training is completed. Another bit of information that came to light that emphasizes the need for more resources was that as of April of this year, more than 7,000 warrants have gone unserved...
On the Food & Beverage Scene - Thanh Quoc Lam, owner of Ba-Le Sandwiches and Bakery, was personally recognized by President Bush as the National Small Business Person of the year. Lam has worked his way from being a penniless Vietnam refugee of 20 years old to having a current business income of $5 million. His Kona sandwich shop is located at Kona Coast Shopping Center and gets consistently good reviews from patrons. And Kona Brewing Company "does it again", by winning "Best of the Northwest/Pacific" in the Marzen Lager category of the United States Beer Tasting Championships for its Menehune Marzen. Good show! Tex Drive In, famous for their malasadas, has opened their 2nd branch in Pahala, down in Kau, making it technically possible for you to hit the popular restaurant twice when going around the island. The original Tex is in Honoka'a, near Waipio Valley. Kona Style Fish 'N Chips has opened in North Kona Shopping Center (near the Kona Brew Pub) where the local plate lunch place used to be. They have a variety of fresh fish on the menu, and serve a tasty Passion Guava Chicken, as well.
Closing/Opening - The Salvation Army Thrift Store has closed and is looking for a new home. Builders Express has "reopened" as HPM Building Supply as of June 15th, trying to emphasize once again the needs of home owners and "do-it-yourselfers" rather than large scale contractors and builders. The store, located in the "Old Industrial Area", features a new kitchen and bath showroom.
Kona Community Hospital's new "hospitalists" program is working out successfully in helping to provide better care for patients. The hospital hired two board-certified internal medicine physicians earlier this year to be hospitalists. Hospitalists are physicians who specialize in caring for patients and who do not have an outpatient medical practice. Though they are contracted by the hospital, hospitalists also consult with the patients' family physician or G.P. if they have one. They are not primary care physicians, but can follow up on patients' welfare. One of the new physicians specializes in tropical diseases, and the other's specialty is infectious disease. A need for study of the hospital's emergency communication plan became apparent last April, when the facility was essentially cut off from the outside world during a problem with the hospital phone system. No one could call in to the hospital, and no one could call out, for 12 hours. Patient care or vital communication within the building was not affected. The hospital's disaster committee will consider a proposal to purchase more telephones that could be plugged in to a separate system.
The first portion of the Waimea Trail and Greenways project, directly to the left and right just inside the entrance to the Waimea Nature Park, is now open to the public.
Though this first open stretch is less than a mile, it now connects with a network of trails inside the Nature Park, and will eventually be ten or more miles in length. The Trail will create a green corridor through the heart of Waimea along the Waikoloa Stream and will provide an accessible connecting pathway between residences, businesses & schools.
We hope you are all enjoying the beginning of the summer season, and are taking pleasure in "the simple things"!
We'll be getting in touch with you again in a few months.
A Hui Hou,
-Shirley and Bob Stoffer