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Talk Story with the Neighbor Island Mayors

(page 2 of 2)

Land Use and Gambling

Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi 

Photo: Rae Huo

Given the increased capacity and sophistication of county governments, is there still a need for the state Land Use Commission?

Hawaii’s Kenoi: I would say no. There was a time when the LUC played an important role in managing a state separated by water but connected through family, business and shared interests. Our counties have developed the expertise to manage their own affairs. And direct accountability leads to better decision-making.

Maui’s Arakawa: I believe the LUC has outlived its usefulness. I’d like to see it dissolved. Our County Council and planning commission can handle the needs of Maui County and have better information on what’s happening on our island. The LUC just adds another layer of bureaucracy and expense.

Kauai’s Carvalho: There is a need for planning or land management on the state level, because we’re all interconnected and depend on each other as one island state. However, many of the boundaries identified decades ago need to be revisited in a comprehensive way.

Should the counties be allowed to permit gambling?  

Hawaii’s Kenoi: There are a lot of questions about social impact and cost. I want us to be more innovative when we talk about expanding our economy. Gambling is low-hanging fruit. It’s an easy income-generator, but there are so many other opportunities to expand our economy without turning to gambling. Gambling raises more questions than answers.

Kauai’s Carvalho:  This is a difficult one. I lean toward not going there because of the social problems it could cause. We have other options to consider. I also believe a much larger statewide discussion would need to take place before we permitted gambling in Hawaii.

Maui’s Arakawa:  Maui has been voted one of the best destinations in the world for umpteen years. When you’ve got a winning formula, you’re tempting fate when you change. Gambling would change the complexion of what we have. If you’re going to mess with that, you need clear evidence of a benefit and no one has that clear evidence.

Transportation Subsidies

In some other states, transportation services are subsidized to provide service and economic integration around the state. Should Hawaii subsidize air and freight services to the Neighbor Islands?

Kauai’s Carvalho:  The four county mayors recently discussed whether an interisland ferry should be pursued again. We all agreed that if the proper environmental due diligence was completed, a ferry would be highly beneficial. Instead of government subsidies, I think a better solution is incentivizing more transportation alternatives from the private sector.

Maui’s Arakawa: In reality the state probably should be (subsidizing interisland freight service.) What’s coming from the Neighbor Islands to Oahu as products should be subsidized, and maybe coming from Oahu to the Neighbor Islands should not be.

Final Thoughts

What other big issues are on your radar?

Maui’s Arakawa:  One is the introduction of alien species such as the fire ant that we’re seeing now on Maui. We have very poor screening, with a state staff that’s much too small. There’s only one inspector per county. The governor is asking for money for one more for each county but I think we need two more per county. The fire ant came from the Big Island in shipments of hapu ferns, but they could come in on anything. So we must have inspectors to do the job thoroughly. It’s a huge problem, but on Maui we’ve almost eliminated the coqui frog. We created the Maui Invasive Species Committee with county funds and we’re making everyone aware of the problem. Even hotel staffs are out at night hunting the frogs. We created a map of problem areas and went after them one by one.

Kauai’s Carvalho:  So often what makes the news are things that divide us. However, there are still many, many things that bring us together as a community and as a state. It’s important for us to take a step back – back a generation or two or even more – when the way we dealt with difficult issues was based on aloha and mutual respect. My team and I have tried very hard to deal with the emotional side of any issue or project first. Meaning: get all our feelings on the table and talk about them first. Then we can get to a place of understanding and general agreement before moving forward. This has worked well. Of course, there will almost always be some who are not satisfied. But we’ve found this method has helped us look at other opportunities and approaches that have actually improved projects and addressed many of the concerns of our people. It’s all about relationships. If we put people and relationships first, collaboration and good, shared decisions will follow.

Hawaii’s Kenoi:  It’s about putting the pieces in place that will help you strategically grow Hawaii’s economy. Tourism. Military. Agriculture. We have to understand there’s going to be a transformative shift to higher education, science, astronomy. The 30-Meter Telescope will add construction jobs in the next decade, but the data coming off the mountain through technology and software is a whole new sector in our economy. The kids of tomorrow don’t have to live on Wall Street or Bishop Street, they can live on Kinaole Street and engage in the 21st-century economy.  And people who have the knowledge, experience and expertise, we want to encourage them not just to visit Hawaii as a second home, but to invest in Hawaii Island’s future.

(The interviews were edited for conciseness and clarity.)

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