POSTED: 23 SEPTEMBER 2007 - 11:30am HST

Clash over new ferry exposes Hawaii divide

image above: Kauai residents gather in Lihue before meeting Governor. Photo by Joaquin Siopack

by Kevin Dayton and Jan TenBruggencate on 23 August
in The Honolulu Advertiser

Planners and developers in Hawai'i sometimes talk about a "tipping point," where pressure builds until unexpected and rapid change happens.

The controversy over the Hawaii Superferry may be a sign the state is teetering at such a point, a time when significant numbers of people here feel they can't escape the effects of more tourists and residents, more cars, houses and hotels.

When the Kaua'i protesters and a Maui court ruling stalled the Superferry, the anger that boiled up statewide on both sides of the issue showed the dispute was about much more than an undone environmental report for a water-borne interisland shuttle.

Some suggest the Superferry controversy tapped into anxiety that has been building during years of record or near-record tourism and growth in Island communities.

That unease may be felt more acutely on the Neighbor Islands, where cruise ships and direct flights from the Mainland in recent years delivered crowds of tourists to places that weren't accustomed to them, or so many of them.

"We've reached the point where we just have too many people. I'm so sorry to say that, but everyone's beginning to feel it, you're beginning to feel the crunch," said Millie Kim, a Hilo-based community development consultant and a member of the Hawai'i 2050 Sustainability Task Force.

Kim cited bitter development controversies on the Big Island, from the lawsuit that stalled the luxury Hokuli'a project in Kona to the current uproar over a large hotel and home project in Punalu'u, as evidence that attitudes have shifted.

Developers had better take note because when they approach a community with a new plan, "it's not the same as it used to be, where progress is (presumed to be) good," Kim said. "Communities really expect to be heard. ... They don't like lip service, and they're not stupid."

Kaua'i Mayor Bryan Baptiste issued a statement Friday describing the Superferry as the "lightning rod" for community alarm over the pace of change and development.

For the past seven years, Kaua'i's economy has been going full blast. Wealthy newcomers have blocked public access to beaches, and built homes with fences and gates around them. Home prices have risen to between 10 and 20 times the annual median income, and property taxes have surged as well.

Residents are stuck in traffic jams, and highway improvements are slow in coming. A dozen new developments in the Koloa-Po'ipu area have generated storms of controversy over blasting and clouds of dust.

"The root ... is bigger than the Superferry," said Beryl Blaich, who has been supporting the Kaua'i Superferry protests. "Kaua'i has come to one of those critical junctions that we sometimes come to. People are responding to the sense that there's one set of rules for you and another for big corporations."

Among the protesters on the Nawiliwili jetty to block the Superferry were doctors, lawyers, real estate agents, union agents, construction workers, Hawaiian activists, retirees, students, pharmacists, college professors, tourist-industry
workers, government workers, contractors - and a few folks with beers in paper or plastic bags who were there to party.

Jimmy Trujillo, who has led protests against the ferry, said that a general discomfort with change is certainly a factor.

"There is no escaping how the impact of our large development projects have altered the quiet, rural ways of Kaua'i. We can't go back to the plantation days but we don't have to be the next off-ramp of the H-3. Nobody here is crazy about the thought of becoming a suburb of Honolulu, that is for sure," Trujillo said.

It may be particularly unfortunate the Superferry was billed for a time as the "H-4," a new kind of freeway linking the Islands. That marketing must have been aimed at Honolulu, because rural residents rarely wish for freeways of their own.

As Blaich put it, "We don't want a bridge to O'ahu."

There were signs of unrest long before this. The county councils on Maui, the Big Island and Kaua'i all passed resolutions requesting an environmental study on the potential impacts of the Superferry, and on the Big Island anger at traffic jams in North Kona and South Kohala helped create a political environment that is skeptical or outright hostile to many new development proposals.

The Big Island council this year declared yearlong "pauses" in all new rezonings in North and South Kona, North and South Kohala and Puna.

Those areas together encompass more than 1,800 square miles, or an area nearly as large as the islands of O'ahu, Maui and Kaua'i combined.

The rationale for the rezoning pauses was to give citizen working groups time to finish community development plans to guide future development.

That kind of blanket moratorium in Big Island development would have been unthinkable a decade ago, but this year the idea had plenty of populist political appeal, and each resolution passed easily.

For some on Kaua'i, the Superferry issue is reminiscent of a towering development battle in the late 1970s and early 1980s at Nukoli'i, in which politically connected individuals got government approvals, over the objections of a vocal citizenry. That battle involved two elections, a zoning initiative and a referendum, and tore apart the community.

And it was all over a chunk of land with an unswimmable beach that few people had previously cared about. The issue was not so much the land itself, but the sense that decisions for Kaua'i were being made by powerful individuals somewhere else; that the system was being improperly worked; that skids were being greased.

"A lot of people are just fed up with the big money coming in and pushing them around, and never apologizing," said Kai'opua Fyfe, who makes motivational videos on Hawaiian issues with the Koani Foundation, and who has not been involved in the Superferry protest.

"I saw this as another development setup, where the state got hooked in really early, and all the questions that should have been asked never got asked."

If there is a disconnect in the Superferry debate between O'ahu and the Neighbor Islands, that may be partly because the dynamics of growth are different off of O'ahu's shores.

An extra thousand tourists in Waikiki merely merge with the crowd, but an extra thousand visitors in Nawiliwili or Hilo or Kailua, Kona, stand out. Residents in many Neighbor Island communities notice the difference when the cruise
ships dock.

Some of the anti-Superferry arguments make little sense to some who live in Honolulu and cope with lanes of freeway traffic and overcrowding of a different magnitude.

Makiki residents Frederick and Claire Dauer bought tickets for one of the first Superferry runs with plans to ride the vessel to Maui and then return to O'ahu without even getting off.

They haven't been able to make that trip yet, and they are puzzled by the resistance to a new way to travel that seems more natural than a
screaming jet engine.

"It seems healthier," Claire Dauer said. "It seems like a healthier way to travel between islands. It seems the islands would be more at one with each other by boat than going other ways."

The Dauers retired to Honolulu from the Mainland, and Claire Dauer said she feels lucky to be living in what she described as a "thriving metropolis."

"I guess I'm having a hard part with the arguments that they're presenting, that bad people are going to come (on the Superferry). Well, you can fly or you can take a ferry. You're still going to get there. If you're going to transmit alien species, well, how does that change from one ship to the next?" she asked, citing the interisland cruise ships. "What makes one OK and the other not?"

The Dauers also think protesters who break the law deserve to be jailed. "My thing is there are laws in place. It says, you can't get this close to a ship, it's against the law to do that; if you do you're breaking the law," Claire Dauer said. "Well, the people that did it, they broke the law. And what's happening?"

If the public is now growing more skeptical of development, there is a risk that the benefits of growth may be dismissed outright, said Jacqui Hoover, president of the Hawai'i Leeward Planning Conference, an organization of Big Island landowners, developers, architects and others.

Hoover was raised on the Hamakua Coast, educated on the Mainland and then returned to the Big Island. She said Hawai'i must have "economic engines" or future generations will be forced to leave.

"I think sometimes it's very easy for us to be exclusively in the moment, so right now I am irritated because it takes me an hour to get somewhere where it used to take 30 minutes," she said. "But will the contributions made (by new development) support my offspring and their offspring to be able to enjoy a quality of life here in Hawai'i, and to be able to enjoy the power of choice, choosing to stay in their native land or their home state?"

Hoover said the Hawai'i 2050 Sustainability Task Force plan unveiled this weekend is the kind of effort needed to "identify what is it that we want to see in the future, and then reverse engine from there."

"You can't just think in present tense and maintain status quo. You've got to think in future tense, what are the needs of the future generations, and how do we address those needs responsibly while simultaneously maintaining a good quality of life in the present and into the future," Hoover said.

Pat Blew, managing partner of Sea Mountain Five LLC, has hit into heated and highly organized opposition to his effort to build up to 350 hotel rooms and 1,050 single-family condominiums, a project that would be worth $800 million to $1
billion at build-out.

Ka'u needs jobs, and the project would create jobs, but opponents of the project want Punalu'u preserved. The County Council last week instructed Mayor Harry Kim to open negotiations to buy all of the land within the project that is zoned for resort development, and to buy much of the land that is zoned for housing.

Blew said the loss of that land would gut the project. He said he also expects to be sued before he obtains the permits he needs to proceed with the development, and he wonders where all this is going.

"They've learned how the system works, they know how to do it, they don't want to see a lot of things change, and they know how to manipulate it to stop it," he said.

"How do you get somebody to come over here and make commitment with their business with that kind of an atmosphere? There are so many places on the Mainland that are dying for business."

Blew said. "I think there are a lot of people who would just as soon the business didn't come."

see also:
Island Breath: News of September 21 &22 9/22/07
Island Breath: News of September 20th 9/20/07
Island Breath: News of September 19th 9/19/07
Island Breath: News of September 18th 9/18/07
Island Breath: News of September 16th & 17th 9/17/07
Island Breath: News of September 14th & 15th 9/15/07
Island Breath: News of September 13th 9/13/07
Island Breath: News of September 12th 9/12/07
Island Breath: News of September 11th
Island Breath: News of September 10th 9/10/07
Island Breath: Superferry Concerns 9/10/07
Island Breath: KOH Petition to USCG 9/5/07
Island Breath: HSF Slice & Swath Technology 9/5/07
Island Breath: News of Oahu animosity 9/5/07
Island Breath: Maritime Administration & EIS 9/3/07
Island Breath: Support from Oahu's DMZ 8/30/2007
Island Breath: DMZ - Stop the Strykers 7/2/07
Island Breath: Maui Case & Timeline 8/29/07
Island Breath: A Hawaiian's View 8/29/07
Island Breath: We Win Round Three 8/28/07
Island Breath: Plea to Reps and TRO 8/27/07
Island Breath: Rounds One & Two 8/23/07
Island Breath: Boycott the Superferry 8/17/07
Island Breath: Superferry Preparations 8/10/07
Island Breath: Hui-R Superferry Meeting 7/26/2007
Island Breath: Not So Super Ferry 7/24/07
Island Breath: Superferry Invasion 7/22/07
Island Breath: Superferry Noise 7/18/07
Island Breath: Superferry Delayed 5/25/07
Island Breath: Still No Superferry EIS 3/31/07
Island Breath: Superferry EIS Effort 3/25/2007
Island Breath: Superferry EIS Bill hearings 2/26/07
Island Breath: Superferry Promotion 2/24/07
Island Breath: Superferry Launched 1/28/07
Island Breath: Superferry in Trouble
Island Breath: Superferry Reference
Island Breath: Superferry Resistance
Island Breath: Superferry & Military
Island Breath: Superferry History
Island Breath: Stop the Superferry
Island Breath: Superferry Meetings
Island Breath: Superferry Redux
Island Breath: Superferry Problems


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