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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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For his part, Baptiste has undertaken updating district development plans, which also provide constructive platforms for community input. His office has introduced legislative measures to address the issue, including a “Use or Lose It” bill that would require developers to start their projects within five years of approval. Baptiste has also introduced a temporary moratorium on agricultural subdivisions to stem sprawl. Why? According to KPAA, from 2000 to 2005, 1,359 new housing lots were cut out on agriculture land, while 1,600 homes were added in town districts.

“It is my hope that this will stimulate further discussion on how we want to grow, including whether we want agriculture to be a viable industry,” Baptiste wrote to Hawaii Business.

In addition, Baptiste’s administration has a number of smaller programs targeted at such things as agriculture growth. The programs includes reopening the papaya disinfestation plant in Lihue, which, when it closed, virtually knocked out commercial papaya farming on Kauai. He is also working such endeavors as on opening 75 acres in Kilauea to lease affordably to farmers. The difficulty for Kauai, though, is that there is no single silver bullet: Solutions to the various challenges are complicated, require trade-offs and take time, in some cases decades.

More often than not, you just have to bite the bullet.

Energy is a perfect example.

Kauai has the highest power rates in Hawaii. Everyone agrees renewable energies are the future. But what people sometimes don’t realize, says Randy Hee, president and CEO of the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative, is the difficulty in finding the appropriate renewable sources and also ensuring reliability. Hee says many of the renewable energies such as sun and wind require back-up generation because renewable sources are not 24-7 sources. Renewables also require investment, but typically do not provide immediate savings and the KIUC is not eligible for tax incentives because of its nonprofit status.

That does not mean Kauai is not ambitious. Hee says the KIUC has a number of projects in the pipeline and a goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels and being over 50 percent renewable by 2020. That said, in the current state of affairs, people want to see relief today for their power bills. So do Hee and his board. No one lacks the will, he says.

“The solutions are not quick and they are not easy,” Hee says.

Quietly, while some Kauai residents were screaming at Superferry passengers, rudely receiving Gov. Linda Lingle and even castigating local Superferry supporters, many residents were shamed.

People said vandalizing cars is not how local people act.

People said shouting is not how Kauai people work out issues.

Those comments made in the aftermath of the protests underscored a newly arrived, but marked division on Kauai. Kauai residents often describe the riotous group as the vocal minority, many of them, they say, are new, generally affluent arrivals to Kauai. A common practice is to scan the letters to the editor page in The Garden Island newspaper, not so much for content but for the town in which the letter writer lives, to see whether he or she is new to the island.

Kauai Chamber of Commerce president Randall Francisco acknowledges there is definitely an undercurrent of cultural division contributing to divisiveness.

“I think people felt embarrassed,” Francisco says, referring to the Superferry protests. “We as people of Hawaii and Kauai, most of us came from a plantation community. That multicultural upbringing gives us our identity and sometimes for newcomers, there is a disconnect.”

Francisco continues that, in plantation culture, where everyone was so interdependent, you didn’t always express your opinion so negatively, so publically. “Sometimes how we use language, verbal and nonverbal, is the Red Sea that divides us. I don’t fault newcomers, because they don’t share that experience, but the majority of the community does have that as a reference point.”

That does not mean the silent majority is pro-development. The same fears about overdevelopment and loss of rural character are commonly held throughout the community across all demographics. But longtime residents, who have raised families on Kauai and watched children leave for school and not move back because of a lack of jobs, tend to be more moderate when it comes to development, though just as distressed by traffic woes and even more concerned about cost-of-living issues.

“With a lot of issues, there is a silent majority, made up of a lot of local people, born and raised here. They do have the same interests and they do want to preserve our community our culture, our unique social fabric, but really weren’t against the Superferry and understand why the monkeypod trees have to come out,” says Koerte.

“A lot of the longtime people experience the shutdown of the plantations. They understand something has to come in so there are jobs and their children can return, can come home for work,” she says. “They understand something has to happen for us to progress and compete in a global marketplace. They are people who have experienced downturns.”

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Jun 4, 2008 03:36 am
 Posted by  Brad

Nice article.

Aloha, Brad

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