Monday, September 10, 2007

Kauai residents want to protect island, JoAnn Yukimura, Kaua'i County Council

Kauai residents want to protect island

By JoAnn A. Yukimura

Two and a half years ago, the Kaua'i County Council unanimously passed Resolution 2005-15 stating that it was the council's intention not to stop the Hawaii Superferry, but "to protect the land and people of Kaua'i against degradation of the environment and social fabric by encouraging a proper planning process that would prevent or mitigate possible negative impacts ... "

The council went on to request that the state Department of Transportation Harbors Division require an EIS prior to Superferry operation, or that the Superferry "itself voluntarily engage in such a process and live out its commitment to responsible planning and socially conscious corporate action."

In the 1960s, people began to realize that when we overlooked or ignored environmental factors (which now includes cultural and social factors), we would often hurt ourselves, others or our community — often unintentionally, often out of ignorance. For example, DDT was used to kill vermin and mosquitoes to stop disease or harmful insects, but it entered the food chain and ended up killing useful species and contaminating mothers' breast milk.

Furthermore, we would often overlook ways in which we could lessen negative impacts and make the project much better and less harmful. The National Environmental Protection Act and the Hawai'i Environmental Protection Act (the federal and state EIS laws, respectively) were passed to correct this.

This is what many Kaua'i people are requesting — decisionmaking that considers and mitigates for environmental impacts that could harm our land, people, culture, tourism industry or economy. The Superferry is the only form of interisland travel that would allow drive-on/drive-off travel, and that has huge implications in terms of invasive species, drugs and stolen goods, overloading of our parks and depletion of cultural resources such as fish, limu and maile.

For example, a coqui frog invasion would severely damage visitor and real-estate industries. Other invasive species (miconia, fireweed, bee mites) could cause even worse environmental and economic damage. As New Zealand has shown, there are ways to greatly minimize the risk of invasive species, and such practices should be a condition of any Public Utilities Commission or DOT permission for operation. This is the value of the EIS process.

Why would people from O'ahu (or other visitors) want to visit Kaua'i if we were just like Honolulu?

Our wealth as a state lies in our diversity. That is why we are trying to keep Kaua'i Kaua'i.

Furthermore, O'ahu's infrastructure is designed to accommodate a million people; our infrastructure on Kaua'i is not built for large numbers. So we on Kaua'i need to assess the effect of an "H-4" highway to Kaua'i and either prepare for large numbers or say "no."

The Superferry would like everyone to think that few Kauaians oppose the Superferry without an EIS. As one who has the privilege of representing the people of Kaua'i, I can tell you that the opposition to Superferry without an EIS runs deep. It includes insurance agents, government workers, tourism industry people, ministers, Realtors, teachers, business people, lawyers, physicians, students and many others.

There are those, of course, who welcome Superferry with open arms, and I respect and honor them. But those opposing the Superferry on Kaua'i are not a small minority. Most who oppose the ferry simply want to protect the place that they love. Most rightfully shun and condemn violence. All want our government to uphold the law not only against protesters but in regard to the Superferry.

The Hawai'i Supreme Court has issued a well-reasoned decision on the state's EIS law. It is clear to me to me that the EIS law covers Nawiliwili Harbor and that a proper environmental review needs to be done before Superferry operations can legally take place.

However, if there is any doubt, the governor and the mayor, who have sworn to uphold the law, should take the initiative to seek legal clarification of the law before allowing the Superferry to operate into our harbor.

To use the force of government —the Coast Guard and the police — to allow the Superferry to proceed into Nawiliwili Harbor without first obtaining such a legal determination would be a dismal failure of leadership that would put our people at terrible risk.

Mayor Bryan Baptiste and Gov. Linda Lingle have the power to keep people safe without using the police or Coast Guard by convincing Superferry managers to seek a clear statement of the law before operating.

If the safety of our people (Superferry passengers and employees, police and Coast Guard personnel and protesters) is paramount, let's settle this issue in the courts and not on the waters.

JoAnn A. Yukimura is a Kaua'i county councilmember and former mayor of Kaua'i. She wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.