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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Pearl Harbor Drinking Well Has History of Low-Level Chemical Contamination


A drinking water well that serves about 65,000 people at Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam tested positive for low levels of lead and other chemicals in the past, according to a press release from Hawaii’s Department of Health. 

The low-level contamination, detailed in records that date back to 2005, did not exceed safe drinking water standards and is not considered a threat to human health. 

However, the health department did not notify the public about the past contamination, as required by state law, prompting the health department press release.

The Navy reported the results to the state health department’s underground storage tank unit. The reports were then passed on to the safe drinking water branch, where officials did not realize that the contamination was in a drinking water well and therefore did not notify the public, according to Joanna Seto, the engineering program manager for the health department’s safe drinking water branch.

“We received copies of the reports, but it was not highlighted that that was a drinking water source that they were reporting on,” she told Civil Beat.

The findings, which include lead and chemicals associated with petroleum, are taken from records dating from 2005 to the present.

The drinking water well has been the subject of increased monitoring in recent weeks after the Navy confirmed that there had been a leak of about 27,000 gallons at the nearby Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility.

Recent tests have showed that the well water has not been contaminated by the leak and that the water is safe to drink.

From a health department press release: 

A summary of findings since 2005 reported by the U.S. Navy to DOH is as follows:


Detection levels are measured in parts per billion (ppb). Action Levels and Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) are standards set by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for drinking water quality. An MCL is the legal threshold limit on the amount of a substance that is allowed in public water systems under the Safe Drinking Water Act. DOH Environmental Action Levels (EALs) are risk-based levels published by DOH for compounds that do not have promulgated MCL values. EALs are calculated using EPA models and are considered to be conservative estimates for the protection of human health.

 “Earlier records provided to the DOH Underground Storage Tank program by the Navy indicate similar historic findings that are well within safe drinking water standards,” Whelen said. “While these past findings are well below state and federal action levels, the department is concerned about the Navy’s lapse in properly reporting their earlier results to the state Safe Drinking Water program.”

 Careful monitoring of the Red Hill Shaft source and the other wells within the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility will continue for naphthalene and the other petroleum compounds. Toluene, TPH-d, 1-methylnaphthalene and 2-methylnaphthalene have not been detected in the most recent water samples collected at the Red Hill Shaft in January 2014. If chemical concentrations increase, DOH will require increased groundwater sampling and plans for remedial actions. Further action will be based on the type and concentration of chemicals found.        


— Sophie Cocke

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