Monday, December 7, 2009

Saddle Road Hearings This Week

There will be hearings for the final phase of the Saddle Road reallignment in Hilo and Kona this week. This phase of the project might be somewhat less controversial than some earlier phases--it will essentially take the road on a more southerly, pointing more toward Kona than Waimea and skirting the land that the Army recently acquired from Parker Ranch as a maneuvers-training ground for its Stryker units.

There may still be some fireworks, however. I got an e-mail from antimilitary activist Jim Albertini, suggesting that Depleted Uranium may be made an issue a the hearings.

"As part of the EIS, possible depleted uranium contamination was suppose to be addressed. One independent geologist reviewing the data said DU presence may be understated in the EIS draft, and he questions the kind of testing done. We are awaiting other comments from independent scientist," Albertini wrote.

Hearing times and places:

Wednesday, Dec. 9, 5 p.m., Aunty Sally's Luau Hale, 799 Piilani St. Hilo (near the Kanakaole Tennis stadium/Merry Monarch festival.)
Thursday, Dec. 10, 3:30-7:30 p.m., Natural Energy Lab of Hawaii Authority, Gateway Energy Center, 73-4460 Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway, Kailua-Kona

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

White Rocks, Black Tires and Green Shoulders

Warning: this blog is going to be of interest mainly to Volcano residents and visitors.

It's the week after the Volcano Artists' Hui's annual Open Studios event, and the evidence still remains around the village. On Haunani and Kilauea and Lehuanani and Wright Road -- wherever there was an open studio -- formerly grassy road shoulders have been turned into a morass of muddy ruts where visitors parked along the roadsides.

It happens every year. The Artists' Hui has tried to limit the damage, (and neighbors' complaints of noise and traffic snarls) by limiting the number of participating artists, by having more than one artist at a site, and by using sites on major streets instead of the one-lane trails by which many local residents reach their homes (hardly any of the official "open studios" are actually held in real artists' studios any more), but a number of other artists continue to hold "unofficial" sales at their houses on the same weekend.

Some neighbors put up obstacles such as construction-scene tape to keep vehicles off the shoulders near their homes. But that reduced the areas where cars could park, concentrating the damage and causing some drivers to pull off in really soggy places they might otherwise have avoided.

It's probably a small price to pay, in the long run, for the economic boost that the event gives the Village every year; not only the artists, but the local stores, restaurants, lodges and B&Bs all benefit from the flood of visitors. And the fault isn't wholly with the artists: it rests in part on the people who permitted and built the village's substandard roads.

And rutted road shoulders are not just a one-weekend-a-year problem. The cops were up here a couple of weekends ago, ticketing cars parked on the shoulders of Wright Road during Farmer's Market (another runaway success story, which keeps outgrowing its facilities despite the bulldozing of several acres of rain forest for parking lots.) And just day-to-day, the village's one-lane roads occasionally force cars onto the shoulders to avoid head-ons, though most of us long-time residents have become quite adept at pulling off on driveways when we see another car coming.

Which leads me to what I really want to talk about. A number of residents (and vacation rental owners) have taken to protecting the grass in front of their houses by placing rows of large rocks or stakes on the shoulders. Sometimes the rocks are painted white to make them more visible; sometimes not.

I'm sorry, but that practice is dangerous and illegal. Road shoulders, soft or not, are a functioning part of the right of way, not part of someone's lawn.

No resident in his right mind would pull off on a soft shoulder and risk getting stuck, if there's a viable alternative. But sometimes you have to. I was approaching a blind intersection of two one-lane lanes in the village a few days ago, when another car suddenly pulled into the intersection and turned toward me. The house next to the intersection apparently had guests, one of whom had parked on the shoulder opposite the house -- because the shoulder beside the house was lined with rocks. Had I been going a little faster or been a few feet closer to the intersection, I would have faced a split-second choice between head-oning the moving car, running into the parked car, or ripping off my exhaust system on the rocks.

Many residents would argue that our substandard roads and grassy shoulders are part of the Village's charm, and part of the price we pay for living in such a rustic and beautiful setting. The narrow lanes have imposed a sort of etiquette of consideration, with drivers pulling off and giving each other a friendly wave as they pass, that are part of the joy of living here. If people use a little common sense and common courtesy, the roads are not that big a burden. But rocks on the road shoulders are not charming at all.

If you live in a rain forest, there's going to be mud. But if you live in a rain forest, the grass will grow back really fast anyway. So visitors, please, if at all possible, don't pull off on the grass if there's an alternative. And residents, please cut it out with the rocks already.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Solar Water Heater Story at Big Island Weekly

I've been down with a respiratory infection for the past couple of weeks, so I'm afraid I haven't done much work -- just a couple of stories for the Big Island Weekly. One of those should be on the newsstands now: a piece about a new law that ends the state's subsidies for solar water heaters, but requires most new homes here to have them.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Ding, Dong, the Dobbs is Dead

Lou Dobbs has resigned from his anchor position at CNN, saying he wants to "go beyond the role" of a television journalist.

Good riddance, in my humble opinion. Dobbs has always been something of a boil on the butt of CNN's news reputation. I say this not because Dobbs is a conservative. In fact, I'm not sure he is a conservative, in a traditional sense, or even what a conservative is, for sure. Conservatives, increasingly, seem to be defined not by a consistent central principle, but by a cluster of dogmatically held views that don't necessarily make sense as a whole. Dobbs is most (in)famous for his opposition to immigration, for instance, which is certainly contrary to the general conservative support for the free market these days (but in the late 19th century, if I remember my history lessons, conservatives in this country favored protectionism because young American industry couldn't compete with the industrial juggernaut of the British Empire).

No, the reason I dislike Mr Dobbs so intensely is because he's been "going beyond the role" of a good journalist for years. He's more of a propagandist than a journalist. That doesn't mean that he didn't break important stories; his single-minded pursuit of the evils of immigration and NAFTA sometimes have led to some real revelations. But I couldn't trust his stories, because he wanted them to come out a certain way and he tailored the facts to suit his views. The Washington Post's story on the Dobbs resignation, for instance, noted that Dobbs had vastly exaggerated the number of young Latinos in U.S. prisons. Dobbs questioned Barack Obama's place of birth even after the birth certificate was made available to the public; he ran a series of stories about "global cooling" based on scattered and anecdotal evidence that shouldn't have convinced anyone, much less a veteran news anchor.

I firmly believe that constructive journalism must start out even-handed; it's okay to develop an opinion, but only after examining the most reliable facts available on both sides (or all sides) of the controversy. This is a very pragmatic view; it's been working ever since the time of the ancient Greeks.

We've just had a horrendous eight-year-long example of what happens when facts get bent to support preconceived opinions. We ended up fighting a war to suppress weapons of mass destruction that didn't exist, and ignoring the mounting evidence of global warming because scientists were being muzzled, and watching New Orleans disintegrate while Bush officials discussed free market methods for dealing with a disaster. Bush wasn't a bad president because he was a conservative. He was a bad president because he cherry-picked facts to fit his beliefs, instead of basing his decisions on sound logic and the preponderance of the evidence.

Likewise with Lou Dobbs, and even more so with Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. They're bad not because they're conservatives, but because they're propagandists who don't give the facts a fair playing field. When Keith Olbermann does the same thing on the left, it's also bad. And when Nancy Grace prejudges defendants on national TV night after night, based on whatever sensational facts leak out of an investigation, it doesn't serve justice. All of this stuff is entertaining; it gets the emotional juices going, the same way pro wrestling and "documentaries" about Bigfoot and Noah's Ark do. But when you try to base real-life decisions on that stuff, it's disastrous. You just can't run a country on the same principles as the World Wrestling Federation.

So I applaud Lou Dobbs for resigning. If he realized that what he wanted to do didn't fit within the bounds of journalism, that's good, because it didn't. But if, as he hinted, he plans to go into politics, then the modus operandi that helped him get his CNN ratings is not going to be a good thing in that field, either. A propagandist who goes into politics is not a good politician; he's a demagogue.

Monday, October 26, 2009

School Gardening in Action at Paauilo

As I remarked a couple of days ago ("Living it up on the Hotel Golden Princess"), while I was a bit taken aback to see a fund-raising dinner for school gardens and sustainability set aboard a cruise ship, I strongly support school gardens and sustainability. Last weekend, while attending the Hamakua Alive! festival at Paauilo, I got to tour just such a garden .

The garden at Paauilo School is actually more like a mini-farm; it includes not just fruits and vegetables, but chickens, geese, milk goats and hair sheep -- all interacting in much the way they would at a traditional family farm. And the kids at the school play much the same roles in this process that I used to play when growing up on a family farm in Missouri -- starting with weeding. But whereas I had to weed the garden because I was told t0, the adults supervising the school garden have found ways to make the weeding fun. As soon as a kindergartner fills up a bucket with pulled weeds, said an adult volunteer named Susan, "You can go out and feed the chickens (the weeds)."

In addition to looking winsome for the kids, the goats are a secret weapon for turning one of the garden's toughest adversaries -- Guinea grass, a particularly pernicious weed, which grows over head high around the garden's boundaries -- into goat milk. Goats are browsers: instead of nibbling grass at ground level, they prefer head-high shrubbery -- but the tall Guinea grass seems to work just fine as goat provender; I saw them munching away at it as we walked past the pen. But where the goats can't be, the kids take over. When some of the older boys dug out the Guinea grass in the goose pen, they got to hold a "Guinea grass parade" through the school, bearing the bundles of grass in triumph like hunters home from the hunt.

The little kids do other simple tasks, such as gathering fallen mac nuts for shelling. In addition to tackling the Guinea grass, the older students help out in other ways, such as washing eggs, harvesting fruit, and selling some of the garden's produce at a stand in front of the school.

"The kids just love it," says Susan. "The kids are terrific. They surprise you with what they can do and with what they understand. And they're awfully proud of what they can accomplish."

The garden is currently planted with asparagus, salad greens, sweet peas, chick peas, magic beans, kale, sweet potatoes, mint, onions, pineapples, papaya trees, macadamia trees, fennel and yacon. And it produces some other valuable products: compost, earthworms and worm castings (in other words, worm dung), which cut down on the need for fertilizer.

That part of the operation is expanding. Garden director Donna Mitts proudly took me down to the school's latest venture into sustainability: a structure called "Wormville," where earthworms will soon be processing the entire output of scraps from the school cafeteria into valuable soil amendments.

Mitts says she could use six more regular adult volunteers to help supervise the kids. If you're interested, contact her at the school. Those who'd like to volunteer or lend other support can contact her at 776-7710, ext 235 (office).

For more details and lots of pictures, see Janice Crowl's "Hawaii Gardening" blog.

A Reminder to Anonymous

For some reason, readership has been picking up here over the past few days, and I've gotten a number of comments, including some on old stories. Some of those were sent anonymously. I let them pass because they were fairly innocuous, but I need to remind people about the rules here. To quote from the Bio note that appears on every page:

"If you wish to comment, I ask only two things: that you refrain from ad hominem attacks (attacking the person, rather than the facts or the logic) and that you take responsibility for your comments by giving your name. The goal, here, is constructive dialogue, not shouting matches."

Anyway, that's Da Rules here, and I think they're reasonable. If you're anonymous, you're relying on my charity; I may or may not post your comments.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Living it Up at the Hotel Golden Princess

Photo by Janice Crowl

Last Friday I had a rather surreal experience: my first time aboard a cruise ship. I'd written about the impacts of the cruise industry before, but I'd never had the opportunity to go on such a vessel.

The occasion wasn't a cruise, however. My love, Janice, is a Master Gardener who'd been active in fostering gardens in the schools; in honor of that, she'd gotten two free tickets to a luncheon called "Seeds of Hope," which celebrated the School Garden Network and publicized the need for food sustainability.

School gardens and sustainability are both causes that I heartily endorse. As a whole slough of local politicians pointed out at the beginning of the event, this state imports an estimated 80-90 percent of what its population eats; if the barges ever stop coming from California, we're in deep do-do. And the first step to changing that state of dependence is to teach people how to grow food. (For a fuller description of what was said at the luncheon, see "Planting the Seeds of Hope in the Future" in the current edition of the Big Island Weekly.)

Apparently Princess Cruises wants to be associated with those causes, too, because they offered to host the luncheon aboard the Golden Princess while it was docked in Hilo Harbor.

Still, it seemed a bit of a weird setting for such a luncheon, because cruise ships in general are pretty much the opposite of sustainability. A cruise ship's idling engines can easily churn out the exhaust equivalent of 10,000 cars (see previous entry, "A Lack of Cruise Control"). It burns thousands of gallons of fuel to push the equivalent of a 14-story hotel from port to port. (See previous entry) A paper in UH-Hilo's academic journal H0hono cited a state study that said the cruise ship industry had created "7,569 jobs with wages totaling $250 million for Hawai‘i workers" in 2004 ("Riding Tourism's New Wave") -- but the state study apparently relied on stats provided by the cruise industry itself, which is in direct competition with local hotels, so I'm not at all sure that the net gain is all that high. And certainly we saw no signs of direct employment while we were aboard. We saw Nepali security guards, Mexican and Filipino waiters, Aussie tour guides and a Croatian crewman, but not a single local person who was not a guest.

I'm not exaggerating when I say "14 story hotel." The ship has 17 decks, three of which are below water level and off limits. After the luncheon (featuring Alaskan salmon and vegetables that I strongly suspect were not grown locally), we were offered a tour of the ship. We took elevators up to Deck 16, which held, among other things, two swimming pools, a miniature golf course and a chess board big enough for life-sized pieces. Deck 17 was a split-level disco (I guess if you counted the upper level of the disco, it would be 18 decks). The ship also has a very hotel-like, multi-story central foyer, a casino (so much for Hawai'i's anti-gambling laws), a theater, a video arcade, an internet cafe, numerous bars and restaurants, and a decor that very much reminded me of the Hilton Waikoloa: a kind of luxuriously ostentatious chintziness, a celebration of excess without a lot of taste that featured lots of mediocre art work (especially paintings of Mediterranean scenes) and brightly colored carpets. But instead of a "Grand Canal," there was Hilo Bay. I must admit that the views of Hilo Bay from Deck 17 were splendid. But if this had been a hotel on land, it would have been too tall for the island's zoning codes.

In fact, the Golden Princess was so hotel-like that I had very little sense of being on a ship at all. Almost all the stuff that makes this a ship is hidden behind mysterious doors (sorry, bulkheads) marked "crew only." Our cheerful young Australian tour guides took us through the restaurants and casino and disco and past the swimming pools, but we didn't get to visit the bridge or to see the great diesel engines that drive this behemoth. The sides of the Golden Princess go pretty much straight up and down, like a land hotel's; instead of portholes, the guest rooms (sorry, staterooms) have balconies. After the tour, we went exploring on our own, and tried to get forward to the bow, but found no way to get there on a surface deck: the superstructure goes almost to the front of the ship. If Leonardo DiCaprio wanted to cry "I'm the king of the world!" on the Golden Princess, I think he'd have to do it from the front of the Deck 7 Promenade.

The Promenade, not featured in the tour, was actually the only place on the ship that did feel vaguely like a ship. We got to look over the rails at the water far below, and to walk beneath the hanging lifeboats and see the winches that held them in place. I think if I were ever condemned to take an actual cruise on such a ship, I'd spend a lot of time on the promenade. Not that I'm ever likely to find myself in that position. If I had the money, I'd find a better way to spend it.

And I'm sure tourists could find a better way to spend their money in Hawai'i, too. I didn't see anything aboard the Golden Princess that couldn't be had at a land-based hotel, except possibly gambling and seasickness. And the food we got on ship was good, but you could get a better meal at Cafe Pesto. Tourists would leave a lot more money in the local economy if they stayed at local hotel, ate at local restaurants and took the Hele On bus instead of tour buses. And they'd see a lot more of Hawai'i.

From the Archives: A Lack of Cruise Control?

The following article appeared in the Hawaii Island Journal in December of 2005. --ADM

A Lack of Cruise Control

Is Hawai’i’s new cruise ship law worse than the agreement that it replaced?

“In 1993, I was on a Royal Caribbean ship. The cruise employees all had pins that said, ‘Save the Waves’...” mused Ross Klein, sitting at a sidewalk café table in downtown Hilo. “But I would watch every night, having a drink at the bar, as they threw garbage off the stern of the ship.”

Klein, a sociologist who teaches at Memorial University of Newfoundland, has authored two books on the cruise ship industry: Cruise Ship Blues: The Underside of the Cruise Ship Industry, and the just-released Cruise Ship Squeeze: The New Pirates of the Seven Seas, both published by New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, BC. He was in the islands last month to meet with various government officials and present a series of public addresses, sponsored by KAHEA, a coalition of environmentalist and native Hawaiian organizations that, among other things, actively promotes stronger environmental regulations for the cruise industry.

The night before his rendezvous with the Journal at Bear’s, Klein had given a public talk at a Sierra-Club-sponsored meeting in Kea’au. During that address, he had dropped a small bombshell: at a meeting with a state Department of Public Health official, he had learned the Northwest Cruise Ship Association was backing out of its Memorandum of Understanding with the State, in which the industry had agreed to limit its discharge of sewage and ash in coastal waters around the state.

At his meeting with the Journal, Klein produced a letter from NWCA President John Hansen to Gov. Linda Lingle. In the letter, Hansen claimed that Act 217, a new state law regulating cruise ships, had made the Memorandum of Understanding “redundant and unnecessary,” and that the industry would “transitioning out of the MOU as of December 31, 2005.”

But Klein contended that the terms of Act 217 were much weaker than those of the MOU. The MOU, for instance, had limited sewage and incinerator ash dumping by the big ships to waters four miles beyond the 100 fathom (600-foot) markers on depth charts of waters surrounding the Hawai’i Islands. Act 217 only prohibits such discharges within an area three miles off the coasts, opening some of the shallow waters around and between the islands -- areas also used by the states’ ocean recreation and fishing industries -- as potential dumping grounds.

Sewage in the Bank

Among these shallow coastal areas is the Penguin Bank, a long, broad shelf that extends over 20 miles southward and westward from the western tip of Molokai. The bank, shaped roughly like its namesake, is a traditional fishing ground, and is so shallow that, as marine biologist John Culliney writes in Islands in a Far Sea, “This whole broad extension of Molokai became dry land during the last Ice Age, easily doubling the size of Molokai proper.”

“In season,” Culliney notes, “its crest is often marked by a number of humpback whales.”

Klein’s Website,, includes a page listing violations of the Hawai’i-NWCA Memorandum of Understanding in 2002-2003, first reported the Honolulu Advertiser on December 12, 2003. Among those violations were repeated wastewater discharges into the Penguin bank by ships belonging to Royal Caribbean Cruises Limited. On October 29 and November 2, 2002, the Royal Caribbean liner Radiance of the Seas reportedly discharged “blackwater” (treated sewage) and “graywater” (wastewater from laundries, dishwashers, bathing facilities, swimming pools, etc.) while traveling through the bank. Royal Caribbean’s Legend of the Seas did the same on November 27 and 30 and on December 2, 17 and 20, 2002, as well as on March 19 and April 5, 9, 23 and 24, 2003.

The Advertiser story stated that after these violations were reported, Royal Caribbean re-routed its ships to avoid Penguin Bank. But the incidents helped to fuel environmentalists’ calls for an actual state law regulating cruise ship pollution.

“The Cruise ships are not violating any state laws. THERE ARE NONE,” proclaimed one KAHEA pamphlet, which claimed that an average 3,000-passenger ship generated about 30,000 gallons of sewage and up to 255,000 gallons of graywater. The brochure also noted that the ships generated an average of 7,000 gallons of oily bilge water per day, and often discharged ballast water (water pumped into tanks to add weight at the base of the ships, stabilizing them in the water) that could release invasive marine species from elsewhere.

According to KAHEA Executive Director Cha Smith, the state’s waters host an average of about 16 cruise ships at any given time. “I think there are about 20 or so in the summer,” she adds, and notes, “It’s expected to even increase.”

In addition to wastewater effluents, the industry creates other pollutants as well. Smith equates the exhaust from a cruise ship’s diesel engines, idling in port, to the emissions of 10,000-12,000 cars. Solid wastes are often incinerated on board, creating more potential air pollution and contaminated ash. The MOU prohibits the burning of solid waste while the ships are in harbor.

“The MOU is a voluntary agreement,” the KAHEA brochure pointed out. “There is no mechanism for enforcement or requirement for compliance...Nor are any fees levied to cover the direct or indirect costs associated with this booming industry. There were no repercussions when the industry reported scores of violations in Hawai’i.”

Ironically, KAHEA and other environmental groups now find themselves arguing that the new state law regulating cruise ships may be even less effective than the MOU. The MOU and Act 217 appear to have equivalent requirements for fuel and air emissions. Klein points out that the MOU’s provisions for hazardous waste disposal are already “contained in federal legislation.” Smith notes that while Act 217 does have penalties for violations, it still essentially relies on voluntary reporting by the cruise ship companies themselves. And Act 217’s 3-mile limit gives it a much shorter reach than the MOU.

Because of that limit, the waste dumping that occurred in Penguin Bank would not be considered a violation under the new law. An industry representative pointed that fact out to the Journal as evidence that that the incidents weren’t that bad. Environmentalists point to it as evidence of how bad the law is.

“There’s zero incentive for the industry to enforce their own laws,” Smith contends. “There’s zero monitoring. The industry reports their own numbers. There’s no mechanism for the state to do onboard inspections. At the director’s discretion, they can request the reporting documents, but there’s no regular reporting schedule...

We need much stronger legislation.”

According to Tom Arizumi, who heads the State Department of Health’s Evironmental Management Division, the DOH was mandated by Act 217 to determine penalties for various violations of the law, and hopes to have to those penalty schedules in place by July of 2006. Until then, the state’s only recourse, in the case of a violation, is to go to court to seek “injunctive relief for them to stop the activities.

And what if a company was told to stop, and didn’t?

“Willful failure to comply with the injunction would infer criminal activity,” Arizumi replied.

Arizumi confirmed that the state would still be reliant on “self-reporting” by the industry to learn of any infractions, but he added “We can request the ship’s log from the cruise ship industry to verify their operational activities to ensure compliance with the statute. It’s a federal requirement to log all those things (discharges, etc.) in the ship’s log, and failure to do so is a federal violation.”

Federal Pre-Emption

Governer Linda Lingle allowed Act 217 to become law without her signature.

“The State of Hawaii presently regulates cruise ship discharges through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which is more comprehensive than this legislation, protects a wider area, does not conflict with federal law, and allows for greater flexibility to adjust to changing environmental and industry conditions,” Lingle wrote, in a letter to the Senate.

In addition to the problem of limiting protections to three miles from shore, she wrote, the bill’s “blackwater” regulations were possibly pre-empted by federal standards already in place, and that “the bill requires the Department of Health to set fines by rules. However, HRS 342D-30 already establishes penalty provisions for pollution violations.”

She also pointed out that the bill failed to regulate “the primary source of water pollution from passenger vessels, which is treated wastewater.”

Klein notes that, while the cruise ship industry has touted its “advanced wastewater treatment systems,” the processed effluent from those systems is not exactly tapwater.

“They (industry spokespersons) argue that it is virtually safe,” Klein told the Journal, but noted that such effluent can still cause problems with “nutrient loading”—discharging organic matter that could cause algal blooms or other disruptions of ocean ecosystems. The treated effluent may also contain other contaminants such as metals and ammonia.

But Arizumi maintains that the federal laws prevent the state from doing anything about treated sewage discharges anyway. He told the Journal that according to the federal statutes, “States cannot ban discharges from ships that discharge waste that is treated by an approved marine sanitation device.”

Playing by Two Sets of Rules?

Charles Toguchi has a similar explanation for why the Act 217 only prohibits dumping within three miles of shore: the state couldn’t legally go any further.

“The state jurisdiction just goes out to three miles,” he told the Journal.

Toguchi heads Charles Toguchi and Associates, which lobbies for the Northwest CruiseShip Association in Hawai’i. At the end of Klein’s presentation at Kea’au, a Toguchi associate, Patrick Shaw, had stood up and offered his card to anyone who wanted to hear “the other side.”

The Journal took Shaw’s card and called him two days later. But after the first question—a request for an example of “ambiguity and operational confusion” that might result if the cruise industry didn’t terminate MOU—Shaw said that his boss should answer that, and ended the interview. Toguchi called the next day.

In answer to that first question, Toguchi gave no examples, but offered a sports analogy: “You can’t play a football game with two sets of rules. It was for that same reason that we wanted to transition out of that set of rules (the MOU), and put all our efforts into implementing the intent of the recent legislation.”

On the other hand, he said, the industry would continue “honor the spirit” of the MOU, and would continue to avoid some sensitive areas such the Penguin Bank and the Humpback Whale Sanctuary.

Apparently, then, cruise ships entering Hawaiian waters will be told to observe one set of rules, but also to observe the “spirit” of another set of rules that have officially been rejected.

Arizumi confirmed what Toguchi told the Journal.

“They told us that they would continue to volunteer to abide by the operational provisions of the MOU,” he said. They wouldn’t be discharging in the Penguin Banks or in the Marine Mammal Sanctuaries.

What the cruise lines wouldn’t be doing, he said, was filing annual compliance reports for the MOU.

“So if there are any violations, we just won’t know about it?” this reporter asked.

“That’s basically it,” Arizumi said.

Toguchi maintained that the industry’s record under the MOU was “excellent.” Asked about the violations reported in the Advertiser article, he replied that the Advertiser story was an example of “how facts can be stretched to make it seem like there were violations.” He called the incidents “infractions,” and noted that they all took place beyond the Act 217’s three-mile limit, so “many of these infractions would not have been violations.”

He added that the crews had thought it was okay to release the effluent because it was their usual rule to allow such releases if the ship was than 12 miles from shore. All the incidents, Toguchi said, had involved treated effluent.

“Not one gallon of raw sewage had been spilled by the industry in state waters since the implementation of the MOU,” he maintained.

He attributed the incidents cited in the Advertiser article to normal adjustment problems in the early days of the MOU. One incident, for instance, involved a ship incinerating solid waste while in port. Toguchi said the burning happened the day after the MOU took effect, and the captain simply hadn’t been notified yet.

Since then, we’ve had an excellent record,” Toguchi maintained. “I think we’ve had two or three (infractions) since that time.”

Arizumi said that under the MOU, only ”minor” infractions, mostly involving treated effluent, had been reported.

When informed of Toguchi’s statements, Klein was skeptical.

“If they planned to continue to respect the prohibition on discharges in Penguin Bank and the Whale Sanctuary, then I am sure they'd have said it in their letter to the Governor rather than risk the criticism they are now receiving,” he responded by e-mai. He speculated that the industry was backpedaling to avoid criticism.

“Interestingly, the Act specifically states (342D-H) that it does not prevent voluntary agreements (such as an MOU) that extend beyond the marine waters of the State (i.e., beyond 3 miles),” he noted. “Thus, there is no inconsistency between the Act and the MOU, unless one wants to adopt the lower standards permitted by the legislation.... As for putting all of their energies into implementing the Act, I really don't know what he means. Implementation means training staff not to be as cautious as they are currently expected to be.”

What the Crew Didn’t Know

Much of what Toguchi told the Journal almost eerily followed a model of the industry’s behavior that Klein had verbally sketched two days before, as he sat at the café table on Keawe St.

“I think very often when there are accidents and spills, it isn’t a corporate decision, but corporate decisions are not being translated to the staff in the engine rooms...” Klein had observed. “I would think the incentive to cover it up is greatest on the level of the ship.”

Asked how corporate management generally reacted to such a violation, he replied, “The corporate side will minimize it.”

As an example, he cited the case of the Crystal Harmony, which was permanently banned from Monterey bay. summarizes the incident thusly:“Crystal Harmony, Crystal Cruises. Reported in March 2003 that contrary to a written promise to not discharge in the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary, the ship discharged 36,000 gallons of treated bilge, treated sewage, and grey water. The company stated that it didn't report the discharge because it wasn't illegal—it only represented that they didn't keep their promise.”

In the case of the Crystal Harmony, Klein told the Journal, the captain and chief engineer knew about the promises not to dump in the bay, but “The company disclosed that the message hadn’t gotten transmitted to the people operating the systems.”

Klein also cites a 1999 article by New York Times reporter Douglas Frantz, who discovered that ships had “alternative piping” that would allow oily bilgewater to be dumped directly into the sea instead of going through a filtration system.

“Engineers reported that they received an end-of-the-year bonus if they came in under budget,” summarized Klein. “They saved $80,000 a year by not using filters.”

In 2002, Norwegian Cruise Lines pled guilty to dumping oily bilgewater directly into the sea from 1997 to 2000. The company was fined $1 million and ordered to perform $500,000 worth of community services. According to, “The company was given a lenient sentence because it reported its practices to the Department of Justice.” Norwegian Cruise lines is the parent to NCL-America, whose Pride of Aloha and Pride of America currently offer interisland cruises in Hawai’i. lists dozens of other examples of cruise ship environmental violations, including an incident in early 2005, when the Honolulu Advertiser reported that the Pride of Aloha had discharged about 70 tons of treated effluent into Honolulu Harbor. In March of this year, West Hawaii Today reported an incident in Kailua-Kona, when the numerous people witnessed “brown water” boiling up around Holland America’s Statendam, leaving a “brown mark” on the ship’s side, shortly before it left harbor. According to the WH-T article, State and Coast Guard officials denied any knowledge that effluent dumping had occurred in this case, and one Department of Health official suggested that the “brown water” may have been bottom muck stirred up by the ship’s engines, although water in the area was 130 feet deep.

Holland America is a subsidiary of Carnival Corporation, the line involved in the Penguin Bank incidents. The two companies have been cited elsewhere in numerous incidents involving bilgewater and effluent dumping, oil discharges, air pollution violations and falsification of records. In a Florida court in 2002, Carnival pled guilty to repeated oil discharge violations in exchange for a fine of $9 million and $9 million in community services.

Accidents and crimes happen in any industry. Toguchi and other cruise ship representatives argue that over all, their industry’s record is a good one. They contend that the violations recorded under the MOU pale in comparison with those of land based sewage plants such as Honolulu’s Sand Island facility. Environmentalists counter that that the land-based facilities aren’t operating on the honor system.

The activists generally seem to agree that stronger regulation of the industry is necessary. For them, the question becomes: how?

Learning What has Worked

Despite writing a book whose title calls the cruise industry “the New Pirates,” Klein maintains that he is neither anti-cruise ship nor an environmental lobbyist.

“KAHEA is a group that is advocating for change. I’m an academic. As soon as I become an advocate for one position only, it compromises my position as an academic.”

In addition to his two popular books, Klein as authored several more academic studies of the industry, including a major one for the Canadian government. His talk in Kea’au was framed as a report on the sociological history of the cruise ship protests. But he was also took his current audience’s interests into account. The value of the talk, he said, was that “it will give you to what has worked in the dealing with this industry.”

He related the stories of protests in Florida, California and Alaska. He talked about the industry’s efforts to “greenwash” its image and the methods it used to suppress critics, including himself. He discussed the relative merits of MOUs versus legislation, and found both to be lacking. Legislative and political routes, he said, were often unsuccessful because of the industry’s lobbying efforts. Court challenges, on the other hand, were often effective, as were “clear, strong grassroots movements,” such as the protests in Monterey that got the Crystal Harmony banned, or a shopkeepers’ strike that dissuaded a cruise ship from making an Alaska village its port of call.

“There are ways to make the smooth running of the shore excursions...quite difficult,” he noted. .

Klein’s analysis of how and when violations occurred may also suggest ways legislation might be made more effective. If violations and cover-ups originate on-ship, for instance, then effective legislation logically should provide for on-ship inspectors and create a funding method to pay for them. At the Kea’au meeting, Klein praised Alaska cruise ship legislation that set up enforceable standards, a monitoring program and a $1 per passenger tax to pay for testing and enforcement. But again, he noted that strong legislation such as Alaska’s was only possible with the “old style, hardcore grassroots” support.

KAHEA, the Sierra Club and other organizations are working to mobilize that support.

“I think in order to build that political will ... to adequately regulate this industry, legislators are going to need more examples of the problems that the cruise ships cause,” believes Smith. She also strongly supports a tough new federal cruise ship bill that has been introduced in Congress.

KAHEA has started a program called “Be the Eyes of the Ocean,” which supplies mail-in forms for reporting suspected cruise ship environmental violations. The forms are available at, or by calling(808) 524-8220.

“Individuals whose documentation of dumping leads to fines against a cruise line may be eligible to receive half of any fine that is levied under the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships,” announces a note at the bottom of the form, which cites one case where passengers videotaped plastic bags being dumped overboard and got to claim shares of the $250,000 fine that was collected as a result.

Ironically, perhaps the people most able to influence the industry’s behavior may not be those standing on the shore, but the passengers themselves, such as the couple who reported the plastic bag dumping -- or like Klein, the self-professed “cruise junkie.”

“I started as a cruise enthusiast...” he told the Journal. My wife and I were taking up to 50 days a year of cruises.”

But with all that shipboard time, he began to “see things like some of the labor problems... After about 200 days on cruise ships, I reached the point where I wanted to start writing about the topic.”

For him, it was not a matter of stopping the cruise industry, but of making it live up to its own PR.

“How can I impact the industry,” he asked, “so that I can go on a cruise ship and not have those moral and ethical dilemmas?”

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

From the Archives: The Beginnings of the Tradewinds Debacle

According to yesterday's Tribune Herald, the Board of Land and Natural Resources is considering a 10-year extension of Tradewinds Forest Products' timber harvesting lease, despite the fact that Tradewinds has yet to build the specialty plywood plant on the Hamakua Coast that it promised as part of its contract.

Given yesterday's headline, it's worthwhile to remember how this whole mess began. The article below appeared in the Hawai'i Island Journal in March of 2001. It's sort of a cautionary tale on the drawbacks of contracts awarded on the low-bid system, without examining the bidders' finances....

A Plywood Plant for Hamakua?

Despite a depressed plywood market, a bankrupt backer and community skepticism, the state and an Oregon firm move forward with plans for a huge Big Island mill.

by Alan D. McNarie

A West Coast based company named Tradewinds Forest Products took a major step toward building a new plywood factory on the Hamakua Coast last month. The company has inked a 15-year contract with Prudential Timber for trees from its eucalyptus plantations on the Hamakua Coast and Parker Ranch to supply its proposed mill. But the company still faces serious community opposition and a gauntlet of regulatory hurdles – as well as uncertainty about the venture’s economic survivability.

Tradewinds’ project would be one of the largest single industrial facilities ever proposed for the Big Island. The main building alone would cover seven acres; the overall plant size, including a log yard, onsite wastewater treatment facility and wood-waste-fueled power plant, would require 60-70 acres. Tradewinds estimates that it will require 30,000-40,000 acres of Hawai`i-grown wood to run the plant, which would produce construction, industrial and architectural plywood, specialty lumber and wood chips as “primary products.” It would also import about 100 million square feet per year of softwood veneer to use in its plywood products. The company estimates that its plant would employ approximately 300-400 full-time workers, and another 150 contract workers, including truck drivers and loggers. It would add an estimated 90 trucks per day to traffic on Big Island highways, primarily between the mill, logging sites and the ports of Hilo and Kawaihae.

That is, if it is built and proves financially viable. As of press time for this article, the company’s financial backer had declared bankruptcy and the plant still has secured no alternative source of funding. But Tradewinds President Don Bryan believes that the contract with Prudential Timber will make securing that backing much easier.

The stakes in Tradewind’s Hawai`i gamble are huge, and involve some of the island’s biggest economic players. Kamehameha Schools, formerly Bishop Estate, has leased much of its Hamakua Coast holdings to Prudential Timber, which has committed at least 16,000 acres to tree plantations – mostly fast-growing eucalyptus. Prudential Timber recently leased another 10,000 acres of land from Parker Ranch for more eucalyptus plantations, and C. Brewer has leased thousands of acres in Ka`u for more tree plantations. Tradewinds first proposed its mill as part of a winning bid to harvest and replant 11,700 acres of “non-native” forest in the DOFAW’s Waiakea Timber Management Area (WTMA). The Waiakea timber management plan has been touted as model for other timber holdings in DOFAW’s 700,000-acre domain. The Forest Management Plan for WTMA projects "an aggressive yet attainable integrated forest industry initiative of 60,000 acres of forest plantations on the island of Hawai`i."

But some Hamakua residents worry that the plan could become another sugar industry in many negative senses: chemical pollution, erosion, and eventually a closed factory – only this time, with thousands of acres of eucalyptus trees to clear instead of cane fields.

“What is going to happen if they can’t make it in the world market with that plywood and veneer?” worries Ada Pulin-Lamme of the community organization Friends of Hamakua. “What is this plan going to turn into? It’s not something that’s going to sit there with that much of an investment. There’s going a joint venture partnership, and they’re going to make some demands...Is a pulp mill the next step?”

West Coast Plywood Woes

At one time, Tradewinds thought it already had financial backing for its mill. When the company first proposed the plant, it was a partnership of two other West Coast firms, The Timber Exchange and Quality Veneer and Lumber (QVL). The Timber Exchange, whose President is also Bryan, is primarily a forestry brokerage that buys and sells large blocks of timber and land in the Pacific Northwest. QVL, whose chair and CEO at the time was Gordon Boyd, was formed in 1998 with $30 million in capital and a $50 million credit line to buy and operate four lumber and plywood mills in Washington and Oregon; it was expected to supply the investment capital for the Hawaii venture, as well. But in the fall of 1999, Boyd abruptly left QVL, citing differences over “the way QVL should be managed,” and QVL pulled out of Tradewinds – events that Bryan describes as “simultaneous.” Boyd remains involved in Tradewinds, and Bryan says Boyd will manage the Hawai`i plywood plant if it is built.

“His skill is on the mill side and the marketing side. My skill is on the timber side,” Bryan told the Journal.

To alleviate some of residents’ fears, Tradewinds had invited a delegation of concerned residents and county officials in the fall of 1999 to tour QVL’s Omak plywood plant – only to cancel the tour at the last minute, when QVL pulled its funding. Within months, Omak had shut down.

Within a year of Boyd’s departure, QVL had closed all of its mills and declared bankruptcy. One mill had been closed and sold shortly after its purchase. The company cited a depressed plywood market in its closure of its Omak plywood mill on June 12, 2000. The Omak Mill closing cost Okanogan County over over280 mill jobs and approximately $5 million in wages. The company’s Mayr Bros. mill shut down in August. On September 25, QVL’s Hanel Lumber Company closed abruptly, locking out 120 mill workers and costing Odell County an estimated 100 additional jobs in supporting industries. The state finally intervened to pay the workers their last two weeks’ wages. On January 31, the bankruptcy court removed the company’s current management and placed its remaining assets under trusteeship.

QVL wasn’t alone in its misery. One Oregon statistical firm, Paul Ehringer and Associates, has estimated that between 1989 and 1999, 219 sawmills closed in five Western states. During the same period, at least 144 sawmills, veneer mills and plywood plants have closed in Oregon alone in the past decade. Last summer, according to U.S. Forest Service estimates, more than 160 softwood sawmills in the United States temporarily halted production, due to a glut of forest products on the market.

When asked how his company intended to keep the Hamakua plant from becoming another Omak, Bryan replied, “One way is, we’re going to keep Mr. Boyd on the payroll. When he left, QVL was in good shape.”

Newspaper court papers related to the bankruptcy, however, suggest that QVL may already have been in trouble before Boyd left. In October of 1999, only a month after QVL canceled the trip to the Omak plant, the Federal Register contained a notice that QVL had applied for relief in the form of “worker adjustment assistance” under the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) – and had been turned down. In its successful motion to remove the company’s current management, creditor GECC alleged that, while QVL made a slim overall profit for 1999, “all was not well with QVL and lumber prices continued falling precipitously during the fall of 1999....”

Some of QVL’s wounds, however, may have been self-inflicted – and the GECC filing gives credit to Boyd as a whistleblower, for passing on documents that indicated two other company officers had paid themselves $100,000 bonuses with money that should have gone for delinquent taxes and insurance. But GECC also questions the propriety of $172,582 in severance payments made by QVL to Boyd, when other creditors were waiting in line.

“Commodity plywood is soft right now,” admitted Bryan. But instead of commodity plywood – the common softwood plywood used, for instance, in house walls – Bryan said the Hawai`i plant would specialize in “various specialty products that target high strength engineering applications” such as “laminated veneer lumber” – extra strong plywood that could replace sawn roof beams in houses, for instance.

But QVL had pursued a similar strategy of specialization with its Oregon mills. When it bought the four mills in 1998, Boyd told the Portland Oregonian that the company would refocus “from commodity lumber and plywood to specialty wood used in modular housing and engineered wood products.”

The proposed Hawai`i mill would enjoy at least one advantage, however. One of the problems facing West Coast mills has been not only an oversupply of finished plywood, but a shrinking timber base, as old-growth forests disappeared and environmental regulations tightened to defend what remained. A stand of pine or fir on the West coast takes about 40 years to regrow. But Hawaii’s eucalyptus plantations can produce veneer logs for plywood in as little as nine years.

“They Can’t Export Raw Logs”

“We didn’t receive any other proposals that even came close to the level of Tradewinds’,” maintains DOFAW head Mike Buck, when asked why his agency stuck with Tradewinds instead of rebidding the contract after the QVL fiasco.

DOFAW was badly burned in 1997, when it proposed to lease state lands in Hamakua to the Japanese consortium Oji Paper/Marubeni to grow eucalyptus for wood chips, which would have been sent to Japan for conversion into paper products. The plan was voted down by the Board of Land and Natural Resources in the face of massive community opposition. In putting together its management plan of Waiakea Timber Management Area, DOFAW set up some stringent criteria designed to meet some of the public concerns expressed during the Oji Paper debacle. One concern was the lack of local jobs that the Oji Paper proposal would have generated. The WTMA management plan required that the winning proposal would generate such jobs.

“They can’t export raw logs. They can’t export wood chips as their only product,” said Buck – although wood chips were considered as a viable use for wood that was unsuitable for plywood or lumber. He added, “We have to make sure that in our timber licenses, we are protecting the public’s interest, and we’re not going to have any timber harvested unless the facility has been built.”

But DOFAW has other goals in mind as well. “One of the major reasons to be involved is that Hawaii needs a viable use for these large tracts of agricultural land,” Buck explains. He basically sees three alternatives for plantation-sized blocks of land such as the former Hamakua Sugar holdings: pasture, timber, or subdivisions. “If we don’t’ tie up some agricultural land and keep it in green, the quality of life is going to go down,” he believes.

Lessons from Big Sugar?

But on the ground in Hamakua, some residents see hundreds of different opportunities for the land, not just a few larger ones.

“Why are we in such a hurry to push a big industry, when wonderful, diversified agriculture is beginning to blossom – like vanilla bean, cacao, the different medicinals, like noni, awa, and aloe vera? There are so many crops here – it’s just going to take time for this to come about,” says Friends of Hamakua Secretary Linda Lyerly. “We really wouldn’t mind a smaller saw mill veneer plant. But this is so huge – too big for this island. Seven acres under one roof....”

Also weighing on residents’ minds are the lessons of Big Sugar, which plunged the entire island into a depression with the collapse of a single crop. They aren’t anxious to repeat the experience.

Friends of Hamakua has launched a petition requesting and Environmental Impact Statement on the entire plywood operation, from tree plantation to factory to harbor, before the WTMA management contract is finalized. So far, over 700 residents have signed the petition.

Even without an overall EIS, the project still needs to overcome several regulatory hurdles. Although it didn’t rebid the WTMA contract, DOFAW held up the final approval process until Tradewinds could get on sounder financial footing. Now that the company has assured itself of the Prudential Timber contract, Buck says DOFAW will forward a final contract proposal to the Board of Land and Natural Resources for approval.

Tradewinds still has to decide on a site for its mill and perform engineering studies; when those are done, it has to go through rezoning and permitting processes for the factory and power plant. “The Department of Health would be the lead state regulatory agency for the permitting process” for that stage of the project, says Buck.

Buck thinks the company probably will have to pay around $2 million for the permitting process alone.

Bryan believes that if all those hurdles are cleared, the earliest the mill could come online would be in two years. “My guess is before we are truly up and running, it’s three years from now.”

If construction is completed, the challenge then becomes to keep the mill running.

“The more inundated we get with trees, the more land gets filled with trees, the more the people in the state will feel that the need to accommodate the people with the trees, and it’s going to be at the expense of the people who live here,” worries Pulin-Lamme.

But Bryan remains confident. “We’ve been five years into the investigation of this business,” he told the Journal. “We’ve thought it through, and we’re ready to get started.”

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Liar's Club Tour of Volcano Village, by T. Wilfred Forkenoy

From the archives..... -ADM

Ladies and gentlemen, we are now approaching the Volcano area. On your left, you will see Mauna Loa Estates. Although resembling a jungle, this area was long ago recognized by our state to be prime agricultural land, of such fecundity that farms are a mere 1/3 of an acre each. The geography of Mauna Loa Estates is extremely unusual. You will note that we have been driving up the slope of Kilauea, the most active volcano in the world. Mauna Loa Estates, while appearing to be contiguous to this mountain, has actually been declared to be physically and legally a part of Mauna Loa, which erupts less frequently, much to the relief of residents. The three main streets in Mauna Loa Estates -- Jade, Ruby, and Pearl -- were named after the mines which produced large quantities of those gems in this area during ancient Hawaiian times. The pearls were extracted from Hawai`i's famous mountain oysters, unfortunately now extinct.

We're now turning onto Wright Road, named after famous religious philosopher Gerald Wright, the only surviving son of Orville and Wilber. Along this road are several noteworthy buildings and attractions. On our left, beyond the world's largest rainforest parking lot, is another link to aviation history: Cooper Center, named after D.B. Cooper, the notorious highjacker who bailed out of an airplane with several million dollars and was never heard from again. Mr. Cooper now resides on a palatial estate in the rainforest near here; his generous anonymous donations helped make Cooper Center possible.

Coming up on your right, you'll see the famous Chalet Kilauea Lodge, which derives its name from the fact that it is covered with over 2,541,150 wooden shingles taken from genuine Swiss chalets. In a few minutes, we'll be passing by the Llama Ranch, the home of this country's only herd of rare Tibetan Llamas, a species believed to be related to both the Bactrian Camel and the Yak. Wool from the Tibetan Llama is used to create beautiful maroon or saffron cloth, said to instill its wearers with a strange sense of inner peace, to deepen the voice to roughly the equivalent of a lighthouse foghorn, and confer a mystical desire to eat mouldy rice.

Ladies and gentlemen, as our bus turns around, you see on both sides the Ola`a Rain Forest. Please keep your seats. For safety's sake, we will not leave the bus. Several persons have disappeared without a trace in the forest in recent years. They may have fallen prey to the legendary giant upland mongoose, which is known to eat anything, even Californians. Or they may have succumbed to man-eating hapu`u ferns. Another hypothesis is that they fell victim to Wild Bores, also known as Park Rangers.

We are now returning to Old Volcano Highway. On your right, you'll see the Kilauea Lodge, famous for its fine continental cuisine and for its fireplace embedded with stones from around the world, coins from around the world, stamps from around the world and fossilized bones of Boy Scouts from around the world. Now we're coming up on the Kilauea General Store, named for diminutive Civil War General Philip Sheridan, renowned for his volcanic temper. General Sheridan is said to have once expressed a desire to visit Hawai`i and plant a monkeypod tree.

This store marks the edge of Historic Downtown Volcano. Now we're leaving Historic Downtown Volcano, and entering Suburban Volcano, which consists of Volcano Village Center, on your left, and Volcano Village Square, just ahead, one of the few squares in the world which is shaped like an 'L'. Volcano General Store, the centerpiece of the L-shaped square, is obviously also named after General Sheridan. The reason that Volcano has two general stores is that each store is the habitat of a rare native creature, the kama'aina. Volcano has only two kama'aina families left, each with its own store preserved strictly in accordance to the Endangered Species Act, even though two competing general stores in one village is a violation of the natural laws of capitalism. We will not, however, stop at either store, as the Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism the has strict rules against feeding the kama'aina, which our tour bus company is only too happy to observe.

Behind and beyond Volcano Village Square is an area known locally as "The Warren," which consists of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of miles of narrow, winding roads through thick rainforest, each road exactly as wide as 1.5 Toyota Priuses. Approximately half of all Volcano residents are thought to live in The Warren -- no one knows exactly how many, because (A) no one has ever successfully mapped The Warren's true extent, and (B) it's difficult to ascertain how many people are true Warrenites, and how many are simply visitors who became lost, gave up all hope of return, and built small shacks in order to survive.

We have reached the end of Old Volcano Highway, and are turning right on New Volcano Highway, distinguished by the new volcano which it will skirt on our left (the old volcano cannot be seen, as it was buried during highway construction). Ahead lies Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park, distinguished chiefly by its military camp, distinguished chiefly for having no military value whatsoever, except for that secret Pentagon volcano-powered laser thing. Oops. Forget I said that.

Thus we bid a fond farewell to historic, fascinating Volcano Village. Best wishes to all of you, thank you for taking our tour, and warmest aloha, which was named for Al Oha, the father of Hawaiian Bureaucracy. Adieu.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Beaches, Bottles and Butts

This past Saturday, I went out on a solo "Get the Drift and Bag It" run to Honuapo (Whittington Beach). My friend Janice Crowl had originally arranged it, picking up the bags, rubber gloves and inventory cards. But she wasn't feeling well, so I went down by myself. Once I got there, though, I got help from a lady and her daughter who'd just come to the beach for the day. They took off on their own, and I filled a bag by myself. Another gentleman started cleaning up aroun his own picnic table, but declined to join the official venture; he just dumped his collection into the nearest trash barrel.
Whittington/Honuapo is probably one of the cleanest beach parks on the island; it's been adapted by a local citizen's group that, I suspect, regularly polices the place. I can remember the time before the County purchased the area around Honuapo Pond: then, the whole area was overgrown with head-high weeds and saturated with trash, particularly broken beer bottles. Now it's a beautiful, open park, with close-cropped lawns, except in the wild area on the Puna side of the pond.
But there was still plenty to pick up. Thanks to the years of abuse prior to the county takeover, the dirt under the grass is filled with shards of bottle glass and rotting bits of plastic. And park-goers still contribute their daily dose of fresh cigarette butts, plastic forks and stray food wrappers.
The Ocean Conservancy, which sponsors the cleanup, gives out cards on which to inventory card on which to record items we pick up; they use the data to "educate public, business, and government officials about the scale and serious consequences of the global marine debris problem." The card instucts participants to "Please pick up ALL the debris you find," but "Only record information for the items listed below." "Below" are lines for keeping a running tally for 42 categories of litter, from batteries to tobacco packaging.
By far the most common category of debris I picked up were cigarette butts; by the end of the day, I'd collected 73 of the little buggahs, and I had by no means gotten all of them. I suspect that many of those butts were the work of only a few slobs: in one small area, for instance, I found 14 butts, all Seneca brand. That guy's lungs must be really gray.
But the adults weren't the only sinners at the park: the second largest category of litter was food wrappers--mainly candy wrappers. I found about 20 of those, including the first Bazooka Joe bubble gum comic I'd read in years.
I also collected 14 caps and lids, 12 pull tabs, nine beverage containers, seven plastic forks or spoons, six plastic BBs, six pieces of fishing line, five pieces of rope or cord, three fishing floats (but no glass ones. Rats.), three fragments of toys, one empty cigarette pack, one bait container (in this case, squid), one piece of building debris, one lead fishing weight, and hundreds of the aforementioned glass fragments).
The low number of beverage containers suggests that the HI 5 deposit program may, indeed, be working -- especially since three of those were non-recyclable juice boxes, and four of the five cans were fished out of the water;I suspect they got caught by the wind and blown out of the beach-goers' reach. But the bits of old glass were really bad news, especially in a place where there are loads of kids are running around barefoot.
The most unusual find of the day was floating in the little pond below the Whittington Beach picnic tables. It was a 50 milliliter glass vial, still sealed and full of water: obviously a scientific sample of some sort. The waterproof marker that the researcher had used had worked really well: I could still make out most of the label information, which included the date: " 12/14 /O4"
Unfortunately, the label did not include a name or address. I'll probably take it down to the Department of Health office in Hilo and have them dispose of it.
At one point, my path crossed again with the lady and daughter who had volunteered. She thanked me again for doing this job, and mentioned that she'd had an unpleasant encounter with one group of picnickers. A male in the party had asked what she was collecting. She'd explained, and the man turned to a female companion and told her "opala."
"Fuck," the woman had replied.
"And they were locals," said the volunteer. "You'd think they'd be the ones with the most to lose." She added that she was a kama'aina herself, of Portuguese ancestry.
"You get some hate doing this job," she mused.
But I also got thanked by three or four people over the course of the afternoon. One woman helped me gather up a few butts, asked me what I was finding, and I explained about the inventory sheet and the categories. I mentioned a few of the categories, including cigarettes.
"What about marijuana?" she asked.
"I guess that would be a butt, too," I replied.
But I didn't find any of those. People don't tend to waste joints, I suspect. Besides, they're biodegradable. A cigarette filter is forever.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Article on HECO Biofuel Controversy Online at the Independent

An article of mine on a HECO's efforts to secure biodiesel for its new 110 megawatt O'ahu power plant is online at HECO has been touting the plant as a model for renewable energy ever since it was first conceived (plans originally called for it to run on ethane) . But the ideal started to go sour when the mainland company contracted to supply the biodiesel ran into financial difficulties and welched on its plan to build a biodiesel refining plant here...

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Enter the Armpit Police?

It's been a busy few days on the Island of Hawaii. Last Tuesday, 70 or so people rallied at Hilo's Mo'oheau Bandstand in support of single-payer health care. On Wednesday and Thursday, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission held hearings on the Army's request for a permit to leave radioactive shell casing debris in place at Pohakuloa Training Area on the Saddle. And last Sunday, there was an emergency ad-hoc meeting about Gov. Linda Lingle's controversial move to oust Micronesian immigrants from their current, QUEST-like health program and place them on a much more basic program that wouldn't pay, for instance, for chemo and radiation therapy for cancer victims. (Shameless self-promotion: for coverage of the Micronesian health issue, see my article this week's Honolulu Weekly.)

Meanwhile, over on O'ahu, their council is debating the pressing issue of BO on buses.

The council is hearing a bill today that would establish a code of conduct for bus riders, including prohibition on "bring[ing] onto transit property odors that unreasonably disturb others or interfere with their use of the transit system, whether such odors arise from one's person, clothes, articles, accompanying animal or any other source."

The bill is sponsored by Councilmembers Rod Tam and Nestor Garcia. The Honolulu Advertiser quotes Tam's rationale: "As we become more inundated with people from all over the world, their way of taking care of their health is different. Some people, quite frankly, do not take a bath every day and therefore they may be offensive in terms of their odor."

Hmm. And just how are they going to determine who's exceeded the offensive level? Odor isn't like sound, which can be measured scientifically in decibels. Is there some sort of odorometer that's been recently developed? Are they going to train some experts or import some--perhaps expert wine tasters or parfumiers? (And if so, how much would they have to pay such a person to sniff armpits on public buses?) Are they going to train special pit-sniffing dogs, creating a whole meaning for the term, "pit bull"? And what will the penalty be? A week in lockup, where the smells can be really bad?

And who is to decide what types of odor are to be prosecuted? My ex, for instance, was allergic to many types of perfume. If a woman with the wrong scent on sat next to her, it would definitely "disturb" her and "interfere with her use of the transit system." Should the perfumed lady be prosecuted? And I'm allergic to red pepper. Could I get someone with kimchee breath thrown off the bus?

But let's set measurement and punishment aside for a moment, and get on the blatant prejudice inherent in Tam's statement -- prejudice both ethnic and economic.

Yes, as a former English as a Second Language teacher, I know very well that some cultures bathe less--but they're usually cultures where water is a scarce, as in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa. I do remember a confrontation between my Nigerian and Iranian students and my Vietnamese and Malaysians one day, back when I was teaching at the University of Missouri--the former didn't even realize that they were causing nasal discomfort to the latter, until a Vietnamese student spoke up and was seconded by others. To their credit, the Iranians and Nigerians took the Asians' comments to heart, and the atmosphere in the classroom improved considerably. No fines or jail time were necessary.

But how many Nigerians or Iranians do you usually see on the bus in Honolulu?

If you're smelly and riding the bus, it's probably not an ethnic dis-stink-tion. You're probably either a sweaty worker who's just gotten off from a long day at the construction site or a farm or a hot restaurant kitchen, and you're anxious to get home for a nice bath -- or you're homeless, and you haven't been to a beach park with an indoor shower lately.

Tam got into trouble last year by trying to ban people from sleeping on park benches--a measure criticized as targeting the homeless. This is more of the same. If he really wants to improve odors on buses, he should sponsor a bill for more public shower facilities (and more public housing), and stop trying to ban the very people who need public transportation most from using The Bus. And he should stop trafficking in xenophobic slurs about ethnic armpits.

I've never smelled a bus rider as putrid as Tam's statement.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

NRC Hearings on Pohakuloa

This Wednesday and Thursday in Kona and, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) will be holding public meetings/hearings on depleted uranium contamination at the Pohakuloa Training Area. The hearing times are below.

The military is seeking an NRC license to allow the radiation contamination at PTA to remain in place. The army has been beating a series of strategic retreats on this issue for months. After I reported that activists had taken abnormally high radiation readings in the saddle area, the military denied that there was any use of depleted uranium on the mountain. Then it discovered that a cold-war era artillery piece designed to hurl small atomic bombs had been tested at Pohakuloa; the gun hadn't fired actual bombs, but the non-explosive shells that it had fired contained DU. Then it found pieces of those rounds. Then the army claimed that although there was DU was found at Pohakuloa, it wasn't dangerous to the public. Each of those claims was disputed by various activists and experts, who contended that DU did present a danger, especially if particles were stirred up by more activity (such as construction, vehicle activity or bombardment) and got into someone's lungs.

I don't know which is right about the danger level. But I'm not inclined to take the Army's word about it. It would be good if those findings were verified by an independent source. It would be even better if the DU were removed and disposed of properly. The army has a long history of and not thoroughly cleaning up its messes on this island, which has exacerbated public resentment and distrust during this most recent controversy.

Meeting times and places:
Kona: 6-8:30 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 26, King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel

Hilo: 6-8:30 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 27, Hilo High School cafeteria

Friday, August 21, 2009

Natural Food Store Switcharoo

Island Naturals is moving from its current location near Mall Wort to a bigger space in the Hilo Shopping Center on Kilauea Avenue. Another natural food chain called Down to Earth, which some Honolulu residents may be familiar with, is moving into Island Natch's old spot. This is inevitably going to lead to some confusion, when people come to the old spot and see the new store; some folks may assume that Island Natch got bought out. This is not, I repeat, NOT, the case.

I wish both stores the best, though I admit to being a bit biased toward the Island Natch with its home-town roots. My general impression is that the Island Naturals chain and its owner, Russel Ruderman, have been pretty responsible corporate citizens for Hawaii Island over the years, and I hope Down to Earth will follow their example.

Food Inc. at Honoka'a People's Theater

Slow Foods Hawaii is sponsoring a benefit showing of Food, Inc. at the Honoka'a People's Theater on Thursday, Aug. 27. Doors open at 5 p.m., film at 5:30, Discussion session at 7, entertainment and networking at 8. I highly recommend this film.

For an alternative view on this issue, written by a farmer, I also recommend an essay called "The Omnivore's Delusion."

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Losing Patients

I got an annoying phone call from AIG yesterday. I'd been in their Hilo office the day before to renew my auto insurance with them. The caller wanted me to rate the service I'd gotten during that visit, on a five point scale from "poor to "excellent," on dozens of different points: Did the person who served me explain my options clearly? Was I greeted promptly? Did she thank me for patronizing AIG at the end of my visit?

All told, the survey took longer than I'd spent at their office. After all the questions about the visit, the surveyor still wasn't done. He had a whole bank of questions about what else they could sell me. Would I be interested in talking to an AIG agent about life insurance? Would I be interested, etc., about homeowner's insurance or renter's Insurance? Health insurance?

I'm afraid that when he reached the question about health insurance, I exploded just a little bit.
"I'd love to talk with someone about health insurance," I almost-shouted, " if they'd offer something I could afford!"

I've been watching the national debate (or yelling match) on health reform with more than a detached journalist's interest. I'm one of those millions of Americans who don't have health insurance.

Fortunately, I live in Hawaii, the only state that offers universal coverage to children, so when my son gets over here, I'll be able to get insurance for him. But that children's insurance program nearly didn't survive the state's budget crunch, too.

So I can understand why tempers run so high on the issue, at least for people like me. I have more difficulty understanding why opponents are so upset. Some of it seems to be emotional reaction to misinformation such as Sarah Palin's "death panel" remarks; some of the heat seems come from legitimate anxieties about what the bill will do to the cost of health care or the already-inflated national debt. And a lot of publicly expressed anxieties seem to be not about the actual details of the bills, but about vague ideals and glittering generalities: I've seen at least two of the town hall ranters in news reports, for instance, saying something like, "The America I know is disappearing!"

America is changing, no doubt about that. Much of the America I grew up in has already largely disappeared, and I'm only 55. The diversified family farm I grew up on, for instance, has been replaced by factory farms, feedlots and corporate food distribution. (See my essay on that subject at The Hawaii Independent Web site. I also highly recommend Food Inc. It just ended its run at the in the Palace Theater in Hilo, but I'm sure it will be showing up on DVD soon.) Most people who've lived any length of time remember places that have been transformed beyond recognition by development and local stores that have been obliterated by corporate behemoths such as Wal-Mart and Target. I can remember when you could make a purchase or cash a check without having your picture taken, and when political conventions weren't choreographed, and when airports weren't police states.

And I remember a time when even a hardscrabble family farmer could get health insurance for himself, his wife and three kids and take them to the doctor of his choice. That world started to die during the Reagan administration, when deregulation allowed both insurance rates and pharmaceutical profits to soar. Its condition deteriorated rapidly after the Clinton Administration's efforts at health reform got torpedoed and HMOs were born instead.

Big abstractions like "The America I knew" can be very dangerous. Wars get started for economic considerations (Even the American Revolution was essentially a dispute over taxes and tariffs), but get fought in the name of "Protecting our Freedom" or "The American Way of Life" or "Manifest Destiny." Bad decisions get made when ideological sacred cows get placed before the realities of daily life.

One of the biggest, most untouchable sacred cows of American life is "capitalism." It's almost impossible for someone to say, in the U.S., that capitalism is not a solution for everything, without the bearer of that news being labeled a "socialist." I am not, repeat, not a socialist, because socialism is not a solution for many things, either. But I'm just the writer of an obscure little blog, so I'm going to say what people with more to lose don't dare say: Capitalism is not the solution to everything. In fact, unbalanced capitalism is often a large part of the problem. And nowhere is that more clear than in the area of health care.

Example: you're a pharmaceutical company, and you're planning your research budget. Which drug is more likely to make you a big profit: a drug that cures a disease, or a drug that alleviates the symptoms but leaves the patient sick, so he'll have to take the drug for the rest of his life?

The answer, obviously, is the latter. I'm on three such drugs myself; they cost me about $130 a month. I'd love to get whatever's causing my high blood pressure and enlarged prostate fixed, but nobody in the medical profession is offering me that option.

If you look at the airwaves (BTW, I remember an America where prescription drug commercials weren't allowed, and companies didn't add millions our medical bills to pay for advertising campaigns) virtually every high-profile pharmaceutical commercial is for such a drug. They lower cholesterol, but only as long as you keep taking them; they cure your erectile dysfunction for twelve hours, but then you have to take another pill--and the pills cost $12 apiece. Why cure cancer, when you can alleviate acid reflux?

Example #2: Insurance is essentially legalized gambling: the company is betting you won't get sick and you're betting that you will. Like any gambling, the odds have to favor the house, or the casino goes broke. But what if the rules allow the house to drop you like a hot potato if you do get sick? Then it's a rigged game, and the profits get much, much higher....

My ex and my son are already relying on socialized medicine, and I'm very grateful that it's available. She was a lawyer with an independent law office; when she got cancer, her insurance policy skyrocketed beyond what she could afford. The insurance company lost its bet, but it still got to keep all the money she'd paid in until she got sick. Then she had to close her law office and go on disability; now the government is paying for her chemo and my son's ADHD maintenance drugs.

Sarah Palin is worried about government death panels. What about the private ones: the insurance company rule-makers who cut cancer patients off from treatment?

My ex's case is hardly the only one. My heart goes out to the family of Kimberly Reyes, the 51-year old Waimea mother who died on July 27 after being denied a liver transplant because trace amounts of marijuana were found in her blood.

That's what happens when the goal is to maximize profits: you find ways to minimize your payouts and maximize your pay-ins. The health-care crisis, in a nutshell: too many people--doctors, nurses, medical technicians, hospital companies, pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, tort lawyers, medical supply distributors, medical machine manufacturers, advertising agencies, unions -- are demanding the right to maximize their profit margins on our misery, and we patients have too little leverage to bargain with them.

Some things are just too important to leave to market forces alone. Health care is one of them.