Public Access Trails Hawaii Wins Case Against Haleakala Ranch Company on Maui


A jury on Maui ruled Wednesday that the Haleakala Trail on Maui belongs to the state, dismissing Haleakala Ranch Company’s claim to the land.

The decision followed a 14-day jury trial brought by Public Access Trails Hawaii. The Maui-based nonprofit has been advocating since 2011 to secure public access to the historic trail. The state later joined PATH as a co-plaintiff.

Don Young, president of the Haleakala Ranch Company, said he was disappointed in the verdict and will consider the possibility of an appeal. 

"We believe that all landowners in Hawaii should be concerned about the potential impact of this verdict and the risk of other claims arising from the Highways Act of 1892," Young said, noting that the company has stewarded the land for more than 125 years. 

PATH’s executive director, David Brown, said in a statement that the decision was “ground-breaking.” 

“The court victory today should be celebrated by anyone who wants to recognize, preserve and protect Hawaii’s unique and rich cultural past, including Hawaii’s historical trails,” Brown said.

The next part of the trial will determine the level of public access to the road and how it will be managed.

Read Civil Beat’s related coverage: 

Development Sparks Effort to Designate Historic Coastal Trail on Kauai

Bill Would Give Hawaii Legislators More Power Over Public Trails

Hawaii Land Board Agrees to Study Haleakala Trail, Denies Initiating Land Exchange

Photo: A beach on Maui. (Courtesy of Sunsplash via Flickr)

 Anita Hofschneider

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Hawaii Rock Climbers Worry Revised Bill Is Too Limited to Open Trails


Hawaii outdoor enthusiasts won a surprise victory on Thursday when the House Finance Committee passed Senate Bill 1007, but the latest draft of the bill published Saturday upset some who fear that it doesn’t do enough to protect the state from lawsuits.

SB 1007 makes permanent Act 82, a law set to expire this year that shields the state from unlimited liability if accidents occur on public land. 

The House Judiciary Committee broadened the law to also guard the state from potential lawsuits if the Department of Land and Natural Resources puts up hazard signs warning of dangerous “non-natural” conditions, such as a fraying rope on a cliff. 

DLNR Director William Aila said Thursday that if that version of SB 1007 passed, the state would be able to open up rock-climbing areas that were closed in 2012 due to liability concerns. 

But despite receiving no opposing testimony, the Finance Committee revised the measure to remove the expanded liability protection and simply make Act 82 permanent.

Mike Richardson, who owns a store called Climb Aloha that sells rock-climbing gear, said the change is very disappointing. 

"With the status quo just extended permanently, there’s a chance that more trails will get closed," Richardson said. "We’re really upset that we didn’t get this extra protection because it seemed like a win-win situation."

The bill received support from more than 2,000 Hawaii residents and visitors, as well as the DLNR and the Attorney General. 

Read Civil Beat’s past coverage of the issue here:

Bill Scales Major Hurdle, Could Lead to Re-opening Rock Climbing Trails

Will Hiking Trails in Hawaii Be Shut Down?

Photo: Kalalau Trail on Kauai (Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat)

— Anita Hofschneider

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Lead, Arsenic, Other Contaminants Found in Soil at Radford High Track Field


The Hawaii Department of Education has temporarily halted construction on Radford High School’s track field following recent soil tests that tested positive for contaminants such as lead, arsenic and cadium. 

The athletic field has been off limits to students and staff since the roughly $2.3 million renovation project started in mid-December. Officials say the rest of the campus is clean and safe. 

The construction area is adjacent to the Makalapa Crater landfill, a former Navy disposal site, according to a DOE press release. Navy officials speculate that the contaminated subsurface debris, which was discovered during recent excavation work, traces back to construction waste and dredged material that was discarded by the military between the 1930s and 1970s.  

The DOE, state Department of Health and Navy have plans to “safeguard, study and remove debris” — including ash, asbestos and discarded mechanical items — that have already been found, the press release says.

Gary Gill, DOH deputy director for environmental health, stressed that screening tests show that “serious soil contamination” at the Salt Lake school is limited to the excavated areas at the track and field. 

The health department found clean soil throughout the rest of the campus, as well as the nearby Makalapa Elementary, he said, noting in a statement that “The school remains healthy and safe for staff and students.”

The soil tests were conducted by DOE consultant Bureau Veritas North America. Their results were finalized March 21. Officials have covered the excavated area and “contained” the construction site. 

Radford High School serves about 1,300 students, many of whom are military dependents. 

Photo: Radford High School. (Courtesy of Facebook)

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Hawaii Sierra Club’s Harris May Run for State House Seat


Robert Harris, the executive director of the Sierra Club's Hawaii chapter, has filed an organizational report with the state Campaign Spending Commission.

Harris is interested in running as a Democrat for the House District 48 seat that represents Haiku Valley, Kahaluu, Heeia, Ahuimanu and Kaneohe on Oahu’s Windward Coast. The seat is held by Democrat Jessica Wooley, who has been appointed (but not yet confirmed) by Gov. Neil Abercrombie to the Office of Environmental QualityControl.

The Sierra Club helped Wooley defeat Democrat Pono Chong in 2012, when the seat was redistricted and the two incumbents were thrown in the same contest.

Two other Democrats and a Republican have already pulled papers for the District 48 race, a step Harris has not yet taken.


Photo: The Sierra Club’s Robert Harris at a press conference with the HGEA and UHPA, Iolani Palace, Aug. 3, 2012. (Civil Beat)

—Chad Blair

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Billionaire Ellison Announces New Lanai Documentary Film Festival


Billionaire Larry Ellison has a new plan for the Hawaii island he bought, but needs everyone’s help to make it happen.

He announced in a news release Tuesday that Lanai will host an international documentary film festival that aims to spark conversations for worldwide change by empowering the individual.

The schedule for the inaugural Lanai Documentary Film Festival is set to be announced this fall. The release says the plan is to showcase short and feature-length documentaries and direct participants to take tangible action on issues that will impact the world.

"Lanai DFF is unique in that you can watch a film that will speak to your heart and then be affected by a beautiful, natural setting that reminds us to care for people, wildlife, and the environment," Ellison said.

The main areas of focus are peoplewildlife and the planet, but there will also be competitive categories.

Read more about the new festival here.

Nathan Eagle

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Hawaii Students Encouraged to Apply for $1K Alternative Energy College Scholarship


Alternate Energy Inc. is offering a $1,000 scholarship to a Hawaii student who’s knowledgable about sustainability or solar power and will be attending any accredited university next semester. 

The scholarship is available to any Hawaii resident, including those who will be attending a school on the mainland. 

The application includes an essay section where students are asked to respond to one of two prompts: “How does sustainability make Hawaii a better place to live?” or an explanation of Hawaii’s solar energy timeline.

Applications are due July 27. Alternate Energy Inc, also known as AEI, will notify the winning student by August 11.

The scholarship marks the first year AEI, an Oahu-based company that promotes the financial and environmental benefits of solar energy, is spearheading a school-based initiative, according to a press release.

More information on the scholarship can be found here

Photo: Solar panels at Kaimuki High School. (Courtesy of the Hawaii Department of Education)

— Alia Wong

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UH Student Honored as One of Two National Next Gen ‘Conservation Leaders’


The White House is honoring Hawaii native and Maui College student Jon Brito, 24, as one of two national conservation role models, according to a press release from the Corps Network. The network connects conservation corps across the country.

Brito, who served as an AmeriCorps member with the Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps, or Kupu, is being honored as one of the country’s “next generation of conservation leaders.”

The college student has already dedicated his life to conserving Hawaii and encouraging environmental stewardship among young adults, according to the press release. Brito, who hails from Kualapuu, Molokai, has constructed trails, eradicated invasive species and restored ancient fishponds. He led hikes for fellow young environmentalists while teaching them outdoor skills in his role as a conservation “crewleader” for the Corps Network. 

"Jon is passionate about protecting the land and water that have been important to Hawaiian culture for many generations," the press release says. 

Brito is studying engineering technology at Maui College, a University of Hawaii campus. He’s also interning with Kupu’s vocational training program. Ultimately, he hopes to help Hawaii reach energy independence. 

The other conservation role model is Anthony “Chako” Ciocco, a member of the Mvskoke tribe who leads ecological restoration projects within the Navajo Nation. 


Photo: Jon Brito. (Courtesy of the Corps Network.)

— Alia Wong

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Hawaii Rep Jessica Wooley Named Director of Office of Environmental Quality Control


Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie has named House Agriculture Chairwoman Jessica Wooley as director of the Office of Environmental Quality Control.

Wooley, who currently represents Kaneohe, was elected in 2008. She said in a press release that she sees the post as an opportunity to have a greater impact. Her appointment is subject to Senate confirmation. 

But depending on who replaces her, the announcement could be bad news for residents who have been advocating for more regulation of genetically modified food and farming in Hawaii. 

Wooley has been an advocate for labeling genetically modified food, unlike her counterpart Clarence Nishihara in the Senate. 

"If she takes that job, she leaves us unguarded from the chemical companies and their lobbyists," Nomi Carmona, president of the group Babes Against Biotech, told Civil Beat last week. 


— Anita Hofschneider

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Hawaii Senate Panel Advances Bills Addressing North Shore Erosion


A key committee in the Hawaii Senate has given its stamp of approval to two bills aimed at mitigating erosion on Oahu’s North Shore.

Senate Bill 3035 sets aside money to realign Kamehameha Highway that runs by Laniakea Beach. 

Senate Bill 3036 allocates money for the University of Hawaii Sea Grant College Program to develop a beach management plan from Sunset Beach to Waimea Bay.

Sen. Clayton Hee introduced both bills last month in response to concerns about traffic on the North Shore and recent erosion hurting some homes in the area.

The Committee on Ways and Means approved the bills on Tuesday, along with other measures related to the environment. One of them, Senate Bill 2742, would establish the Pacific-Asia Institute for Resilience and Sustainability to develop solutions for sustainable economic growth and address natural and man-made hazards in the region. 

“These bills passed today touch on many facets of the environment both with immediate actions and long-term planning, and will require more meetings and consensus for success,” said Ways and Means Chairman David Ige in a statement.

Photo: Hawaii residents clean up in the wake of destructive erosion on Oahu’s North Shore in December 2013. (Sophie Cocke/Civil Beat)

— Anita Hofschneider

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Water Board Cleared of Wrongdoing in Ethics Investigation


The Honolulu Board of Water Supply awarded nearly $2.5 million in contracts to its former chief information officer in the months after his departure from the city utility, raising questions about post-employment ethical violations.

But a city Ethics Commission investigation found Thursday that the water board did nothing wrong. 

An unnamed member of the public had raised concerns about the contracts, prompting the investigation. 

Brian McKee worked as CIO for the water board until May 2011. Several months later, he formed a company called UTC-10 Consulting, which successfully won bids for two BWS contracts in June 2012. 

McKee also had past associations with a company called EMA, which was awarded $4.2 million in contracts to improve the water board’s meter reading and billing system, which have been plagued by errors

While, the city’s post-employment laws appear to ban city personnel from seeking city contracts for a year after their departure, that’s not the case, explained Honolulu Ethics Executive Director Chuck Totto.

“There is a big exception,” he told Civil Beat. “It almost swallows up the rule for post-government employment for the city.” 

City workers are exempt from this one-year “cooling-off period” as long as they don’t join a party that is working directly against the city’s interests, explained Totto. For instance, a former city traffic engineer can’t be paid as an expert in a lawsuit involving the city’s traffic lights. 

Totto said that the law was aimed at balancing the city’s interests with those of former government workers seeking employment in a relatively small job market.

However, there are city procurement rules aimed at making sure ex-government employees aren’t getting special treatment from former co-workers when seeking contracts. The ethics commission investigation concluded that the water supply board did not violate these rules when it awarded contracts to McKee. 

The investigation “did not find a conflict of interest based on business activity, financial interest or close personal relationship,” according to the city’s advisory opinion. 

You can read the full opinion here


Photo: (Flickr eVo photo)

Sophie Cocke

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Are Hawaii Lawmakers Still Trying to Undermine County Anti-GMO Regulations?



UPDATED 02/21/14 10:59 a.m.

Hawaii lawmakers are planning to discuss a bill next week that some see as an attempt to undermine recent county regulations on genetically modified farming.

Senate Bill 2777 says that land uses described in state law defining agricultural land shall be allowed “without further limitations or restrictions.”

UPDATED Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz said Friday that he introduced the measure on behalf of Howard Green, a farmer in central Oahu who wants to expand his retail facilities.

"This has nothing to do with the GMO regulations," he said. "This is about land use to make sure that he has a viable business."

Green confirmed Friday that he wrote the measure to help him grow his business despite county rules governing retail operations on agricultural land. 

But critics of the measure say that its language might supersede county regulations on biotech companies. Kauai and the Big Island both passed laws last year regulating genetically modified farming. 

"It looks like another attempt to preempt the counties from regulatory authority over agriculture," said Kauai County Councilman Gary Hooser. "I’m very disappointed the Legislature keeps trying to move these measures forward."

Apart from Dela Cruz, the bill’s sponsors include Sens. Malama Solomon, Michelle Kidani and Clarence Nishihara. None were immediately available Thursday for comment. 

The measure is scheduled to be heard by three committees on Feb. 27, including the committees on agriculture and land, chaired by Nishihara and Solomon respectively. 

Nishihara previously sponsored a bill to amend Hawaii’s Right to Farm Act to override county regulations related to genetically modified agriculture, but the measure stalled in the Senate. The senator told Civil Beat that he wouldn’t try to get his amendment considered again.

Photo: Supporters of Bill 2491, which requires more disclosure of GMO and pesticide use from biotech companies, celebrate on the steps of the Kauai County Building in Nov. 2013. (Sophie Cocke/Civil Beat)

— Anita Hofschneider

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EPA Proposes Pesticide Rules to Protect Farmworkers


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hopes to strengthen protections for farmworkers who spray or are near toxic pesticides. 

The agency has proposed new standards that would require no-entry zones in and around fields sprayed with pesticides. The rules would also bar anyone under the age of 16 from handling the most toxic chemicals and increase pesticide safety training for farmworkers. 

The Washington Post has this report.


The EPA says that between 1,200 and 1,400 cases of pesticide exposure are reported each year at farms, nurseries and other agricultural operations. But the EPA says that such cases are underreported.

Locally, concerns about pesticide use have also prompted action by state and county officials. 

Hawaii lawmakers passed a resolution last year that requires the state health department to study the persistence of pesticides in the environment. A study by the state health department is ongoing. 

And on Kauai, county council members recently passed a law that sets up buffer zones between fields sprayed with pesticides and public areas, and requires the largest farms, primarily biotech, to disclose details about their pesticide use. 

Sophie Cocke

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Scientist Resigns Over ‘Abusive Work Environment’ with Federal Fishery Council


Robin Baird, a renowned research biologist, says an “abusive work environment” has forced him to quit his position on a committee that advises the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council on protected species.

In a letter to Wespac Executive Director Kitty Simonds, Baird says fellow committee member Milani Chaloupka's behavior was “unprofessional and highly inappropriate.”

"In normal work environments it is clear to me that his tone and adversarial questioning would be abusive behavior and would not be tolerated, and I am certainly not willing to tolerate it," Baird said. "Despite my interest and willingness to participate in the Council’s activities and to provide information and my expertise from working with false killer whales and other odontocetes in Hawaiian waters for the last 14 years, I am unwilling to do so in that type of work environment."

Environmental groups have been fighting to protect false killer whales — a type of dolphin that looks like an orca — from the hooks of longline fishermen going for ahi. The feds have tightened restrictions after multiple lawsuits.

Nathan Eagle

Photo: False killer whale hooked by a longline. (Earthjustice)

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Kahuku Wind Farm Back in Full Force After Fire Suspends Operations



Twelve wind turbines in the town of Kahuku on the North Shore of Oahu are up and running again at full capacity more than a year after a fire brought them to a halt.

The project known as the Kahuku Wind project is managed by First Wind, a Boston-based renewable energy company. The turbines now are running at 30 megawatts or about what it takes to power 7,700 Oahu homes.

First Wind’s twelve turbines were shut down after a fire in August 2012 and return to limited service last September. In the wake of the fire, the company replaced its battery system with a new Dynamic Volt-Amp Reactive (DVAR) system that continuously regulates voltage.

Read Civil Beat’s past coverage of Kahuku wind farms:

Blown Out: Too Many Wind Farms on Oahu’s North Shore?

After Fire, Kahuku Wind Farm Fends Off Safety Concerns

Idle Kahuku Wind Farm Still Costing Taxpayers

Company Sues for Kahuku Wind Farm Fires

Kahuku Wind Farm Faces Long Recovery After Fire

Kahuku Leads Way in New Wind Technology

Photo: Morning at Kahuku wind farms. (PF Bentley/Civil Beat)

— Anita Hofschneider

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Putting Hawaii’s Wind Farms in Perspective


Check out the U.S. Interior Department’s new map of wind farms throughout the country, an effort of the Obama administration to move the nation toward more clean energy. It turns out there are quite a lot of them already.

You can view the interactive map here. It takes a little maneuvering to get over to Hawaii, but then we’re used to that.


(Screenshot: U.S. Geological Survey website)

—Patti Epler

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