Something’s Happening Here
A string of controversies on Kauai is changing the way people do business. The rest of the state might not be far behind
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END OF THE LINE: A Kauai man attempts to stop the arrival of the Superferry on Kauai last August.
photo courtesy of tom finnegan/honolulu star-bulletin
Everything went completely wrong. There was a lone surfer, straddling his maybe 9-foot surfboard, floating in Nawiliwili Harbor, arms raised, staring defiantly at the prow of the 350-foot, high-speed Alakai. The massive boat owned by the Hawaii Superferry venture was making its inaugural trip to Kauai last August and executives were trumpeting how it would make interisland travel cheaper and provide alternative avenues for businesses to send goods between the Islands.
But there was that surfer, caught in one of the most memorable news photographs in recent memory, staring down big business, protecting his island, risking his life.
There were three dozen or so surfers in the water that day and it took the U.S. Coast Guard 90 minutes to clear the water so the Superferry could dock, according to news reports. Then as the passengers got in their cars and drove off the ramp, they were met by threats from protestors numbering upwards of 250.
People reportedly vandalized their vehicles.
One man tried to let the air out of a car’s tire.
“People who do that, they don’t think they have alternatives. They think that is the only way they get heard,” explains Sue Kanoho, executive director of the Kauai Visitors Bureau.
A picture is perhaps worth a 1,000 words and perhaps nothing could better capture the feeling of Kauai residents being overrun by development, being priced out of buying homes, of their rural lifestyle being devoured by rapid development, than that Honolulu Star-Bulletin photo. Indeed, the photo and event garnered attention throughout the state and beyond. There were national newspaper stories and even the international business magazine, The Economist, ran a story about Kauai’s unrest and the state’s sustainability challenges.
Outside of Kauai, people could not help but ask whether the Garden Island was officially antibusiness? In a series of in-depth interviews, Kauai leaders emphatically stated that’s not the case, it’s far more complex than anything so black and white. “From the outside looking in, you may think that. But the question is, do you know who Kauai really is?” asks Kanoho. “It is a place people protect, cherish and honor.”
It’s also now a place where a heightened state of anxiety about development is changing the way people do business.
In late May of last year, Koloa residents were fuming over the amount of dust drifting off construction sites on Kauai’s south shore. What made the issue so grating was that there were 11 projects in progress simultaneously with eight separate developers involved, according to The Garden Island newspaper. If the perceived transformation of the peaceful community into a resort/luxury-home Mecca wasn’t enough to contend with, there was the dust.
It got so bad the developers formed a group called the Dust Management Hui and launched a hotline for people to call for relief if their homes were hit with a dust wave. The dust hotline goes a long way to illustrate why Kauai residents feel smothered, pun intended, by development. Between cost-of-living struggles and fears of being unable to maintain a rural lifestyle on Kauai, people are frustrated with the prevailing economic forces fueling a building boom in luxury homes and resort properties.
“There are a lot of frustrations that cannot be left unaddressed,” says Joy Miura Koerte, board chair of the Kauai Chamber of Commerce and partner in Fujita & Miura Public Relations. “We need to really take the time to figure out where we are going and how we are going to get there.”
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