Author Archives: Leo Azambuja

Higher Education, Full Bellies, and Island Tunes

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

College fair shows opportunities to Molokai students.

By Léo Azambuja

When you join youth, music and Hawaiian food on Molokai, only good things can come out. Maui Community College (MCC) put together last Saturday a vibrant event at Mitchell Pauole Center, aimed at bringing awareness to Molokai about college education. 

La`ike 2008 was an avenue for high school students to sort out college options, including campuses choices, career opportunities, and even financial aid, internships and scholarships.

“I thought it was a good idea to bring the opportunities to the students,” said Kelly Tachibana, who works as Institutional Support at MCC-Molokai. She said she got the initiative to put the event together after realizing many students don’t have a chance to attend college fairs off-island. She said Molokai High School usually has funding to send about 20 students annually to job fairs beyond Molokai’s shores.

The event was a success. Ten out of 12 University of Hawaii campuses sent staff, including Kapiolani Community College, UH West Oahu, and UH Hilo. Americorps attended, bringing information about summer, full and part-time internships. MCC helped out with automotive and culinary career information, among others. And if a college education seemed financially far-fetched, financial aid information was there to prove it wrong.

Counselors, program coordinators, admission staff, and other education-related professionals set up camp inside Mitchell Pauole Center. But it was outside, in the grassy area, that most of the night’s fun happened. Local bands jammed on the stage, while several booths sold plate lunches, musubis, salads, beverages, and a variety of dessert, including cream pies, mochi, and cotton-candy.

The party started at 4:45 p.m. and lasted until 9 p.m. This was La`ike’s first edition, and Tachibana said she plans to organize it again next year.

Tachibana said funding for the fair came from Gear Up, a federally-funded program that helps students to transition from high school to college. But many other supporters are also responsible for the event.

Eugene Fodor, Violin Virtuoso

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

By Léo Azambuja

Eugene Fodor and the melodic notes of his violin attracted 200 people Wednesday night at Mitchell Pauole Center. The world-renowned violin virtuoso enchanted Molokai with some tunes that virtually the rest of the world already had a chance to hear. Here he shares the stage with his wife Sally, a violist player and professor.

Prince Kuhio Day

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

 

By Léo Azambuja

Prince Kuhio would have celebrated 137 years old on March 26. The Molokai community put together last weekend a large party at Kapuaiwa, as it does every year, with lots of Hawaiian food and crafts. Na Kupuna kicked off the entertainment early in the morning, and the party lasted well into the afternoon, with many other musicians honoring Hawaii’s first representative in the U.S. Senate.

Molokai Ranch Terminating Operations and Employees

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

Molokai Ranch, which owns roughly one third of the island, risked it all in an attempt to develop La`au Point (in red). Facing obstacles including a failed environmental impact statement and denied water pumping and transport rights, the Ranch says it now has no choice but to layoff 120 of its employees.

By Léo Azambuja

A bright and sunny Monday turned into one of the darkest days in Molokai’s history, when Molokai Ranch abruptly announced the shutdown of all major operations by April 5 and the layoff of over 120 employees within 60 days.

“They basically gave everybody the pink slip,” said Lester Keanini, general manager of Maunaloa Theater. He said a lot of employees walked out of the meeting in tears.

“Everybody was in shock, trying to figure out what they are going to do now,” Keanini said. “A lot of them are pretty much in the same boat that I am at.” Keanini has to figure out how to pay the mortgage on his new house in Maunaloa.

The Ranch’s CEO, Peter Nicholas said in a press release “the decision is purely a business one.”

As a final blow to the Molokai community, the Ranch blamed the overwhelming opposition to its Master Plan for not being able to continue operating.

“We deeply regret to have taken this step, as the main impact will be on our loyal employees,” Nicholas said.

“Peter Nicholas has only himself to blame,” said DeGray Vanderbilt, Chair of the Molokai Planning Commission. “Under his watch, the Ranch continued to promote an incomplete and misleading Master Plan … and early in the game threatened in writing to bring down its ‘doomsday scenario’ on Molokai if the company didn’t get what it wanted”.

Sen. Kalani English said in a press release that he hopes the Ranch’s actions were based on legitimate financial concerns, rather than “a bargaining chip in their efforts to impose their desire for development on the Molokai community."

“I feel for the people who lost their jobs, but it is not the fault of the people who are against La`au,” said Jonathan Socher, Maunaloa Kite Shop owner.

Socher said the owners of Molokai Ranch “want to blame the people of Molokai for destroying their livelihood, and the workers may believe it, because they have nothing else to believe.”

“Blame Linda Lingle, she’s the one who refused to listen to us,” Socher said. “She sided with the Ranch right from the very beginning. It’s her fault.”

Governor Linda Lingle, worrying about the impact of the Ranch’s shutdown on Molokai’s economy, said in a press release that her office and several state departments are working together to assist the employees.

“The loss of this many jobs in such a small community like Molokai is equivalent to 23,000 people on O‘ahu losing their jobs on the same day,” Lingle said.

The shut down will include the Molokai Lodge, the Kaupoa Beach Village, the Kaluakoi Golf Course, the Maunaloa gas station, the Maunaloa Tri-Plex Theater, cattle-rearing, and the company’s substantial maintenance operations.

Nicholas also said the Ranch will indefinitely close all access to its properties.

Sen. English said the Ranch has a duty to respect the native gathering rights of Molokai’s Hawaiian population. “I hope that the company will act responsibly in respecting the rights of the community," he said.

All of the Ranch’s employees belong to International Longshore & Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 142. “This came out of the blue,” said Abel Kahoohanohano Jr., ILWU business agent. “We had no idea.”

“From what I understand, Molokai Ranch has to give us a 60-day notification for the shutdown. That’s the State law,” Kahoohanohano said, explaining that Ranch officials had not notified him of the layoffs ahead of time.

Mayor Charmaine Tavares said in a press release “the impact on the community will be quite serious.” Calling the Ranch’s decision “devastating news,” she said she is concerned for the employees and their families, the ones who will feel the impact the most.

“Finding work on-island for the many people who will lose their jobs is next to impossible,” Council Member Danny Mateo said in a press release. “I’m concerned about potential foreclosures of homes and other immediate impacts.”

Mateo criticized the Ranch’s decision to blame the community for the shutdown. Speaking about a “project that didn’t fit,” Mateo hinted to the proposed La`au Point development.

“It seems to be a mean-spirited conclusion to punish a community that isn’t ready to deal with the type of project the company wanted,” Mateo said. “To subject the community to increased economic hardship is unfortunate.”

Mateo said he is also concerned about the company’s obligation to provide affordable housing, and with the status of existing leases with the County, such as Kaunakakai Ball Park, Papohaku Beach Park, the community center, and others.

Pilipo Solatario, who recently lost his position as the Ranch’s Cultural Director, said the employees should not take this as the end. “We need to move forward, we need to have faith. This is a heavy trial and tribulation for each of us,” he said.

“If you think that you can’t live here anymore, that thinking is negative and it will come to be,” Solatario said. “There is always something to do here.”

Sen.English said Molokai residents “have maintained segments of their historical subsistence economy, with continued reliance on fishing and agriculture to ensure that food remains available despite economic hardships."

Karen Holt, Executive Director of the Molokai Community Service Council, said her staff is concerned about the Ranch's employees, and expects that the community will pull together to support them, as it did when the pineapple plantations pulled out in the 1980s and when the Kaluakoi Hotel closed down.

On April 5, Maunaloa Theater is supposed to screen its last picture-show, Keanini said. He is in contact with Hollywood Theaters, the concession holder, to try to keep the business going. In an eerie coincidence, current movie titles at the Tri-Plex reflect Molokai’s current hardships. This week’s movie listings are “Never Back Down,” “Bank Job,” and “Doomsday.”

EC Approaching Sunset

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

 

Molokai Enterprise Community, in partnership with the Kalamaula Homestead Association, will lead the restoration process of the Kalanianaole Hall, a building registered in the State Historic Sites.

By Léo Azambuja

The Molokai Enterprise Community final days are only nine months away. After almost ten years serving Molokai, where it included and supported over 40 projects, the EC will transition to the non-profit Ke Aupuni Lokahi (KAL). However, board members fear the EC will lose federal money allocated for many projects if a transition plan is not ready by the EC’s sunset.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) designated Molokai as an Enterprise Community (EC) in 1998, opening the door to millions of dollars in grants for community-based projects.

Throughout the years, the EC had its ups and downs. The non-profit lost community support after most members backed up Molokai Ranch’s plan to develop La`au Point. In 2007, the USDA scrutinized the EC’s actions, and as a result EC meetings shut down from April until the end of the year. Because of the shutdown and other problems, board elections are past due.

At the last meeting, held March 20 at the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL) conference room, the EC board voted to schedule a series of meetings to plan for the EC transition. The EC will continue to exist as KAL, but without the federal designation.

Since Abbey Mayer left the EC, the Executive Director position has not been replaced. The EC is also looking for someone to fill the administrator position. Interim Executive Director Stacy Crivello said she thinks the EC will probably find an administrator before finding an Executive Director.

Board members will discuss elections in the Board Development meeting, April 23. But member Cheryl Corbiell said she thinks the EC needs to put its actions toward a transition plan, versus bringing new members, noting that in its few months left the EC needs “every piece of knowledge” to help into sunset.

Corbiell said board members have a fiduciary responsibility with the projects. As time moves on, she said, the board will need to figure out how to continue with the projects.

Member Sybil Lopez was “dumbfounded” that a transition plan was not already in the works. She said elections and nominations are also part of fiduciary responsibilities, and should not be left out in favor of a transition agenda.

“I’m not saying ‘don’t have election,’ I’m saying before we talk about it, there should be some board time put on the transition,” Corbiell said, adding that the thinks it’s “totally irresponsible” to put new people on the board when the EC should be working on bringing projects to a closure.

However, member Bridget Mowat disagreed, saying that fresh board members may take on some projects, and end up making the transition process easier.

Board member Russell Kallstrom proposed that private meetings be held, if necessary to speed up the process, since public notice must be given two weeks before public meetings.

The EC Board of Directors also discussed during last week’s meeting the restoration of Kalanianaole Hall and a tractor rental to taro farmers.

The EC acquired a tractor about a year ago, but it was non-productive because it had no insurance and no operator’s coverage. The tractor is finally in operation. The Ho`olehua Homestead Association is the custodian of the tractor, which can be rented by homesteaders and non-homesteaders.

The tractor rents out for $40 per hour, which board member Richard Cooke called a “great deal,” since it covers the operator and the five to six gallons per hour consumed. Mowat said the low price is supposed to make the tractor rent affordable to farmers.

However, Crivello said the EC may revisit costs because of fuel price increase.

Castle Adolpho and David Bush operate the tractor. Adolpho does maintenance work on it.

Kalanianaole Hall seems to finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The building is owned by the Kaulana Na Pua group, which recently expired its lease to the land. Crivello said DHHL gave KAL a five-year lease of the land where the building is. “That will give us that much time at least to get (the building) restored,” Crivello said.

Crivello said the EC was allotted $55,000, and got $50,000 from OHA to initiate restorations of the building registered in the State Historic Sites. “We bought materials for the roof and were able to stabilize it,” she said. The money was also used to purchase a storage container, construction materials, and to hire an architect to look over the project.

Crivello said the architect and other experts concluded the building is in good shape, except for the back part, which is “sort of lop-sided.”

OHA also gave EC $500,000 to proceed with restorations. But Crivello said the actual costs may go up as high as $1 million.

Billy Akutagawa, from Friends of Kalanianaole Hall, is overseeing the project. Crivello said she got a report from Akutagawa, saying that a Maui contractor with expertise in restorations, Sandy Stein, is “quite impressed” with the building’s design. Crivello said Stein is willing to see how the project can stay within its budget.

Utilizing National Guard specialized work, such as plumbers and electricians, is a viable option to keep costs down, Crivello said.

Penny Martin wanted the Kalamaula Homestead Association to be in the lease together with the EC, Crivello said. But unfortunately the DHHL wants a single signatory. However, the homestead association will be in partnership with the EC in the restoration project.

It’s a Jungle Out There!

Saturday, March 22nd, 2008

Molokai Lions Club Easter Egg Hunt.

By Léo Azambuja

Just one day before Easter, children from all over Molokai showed up at Kaunakakai Soccer Field to participate in the island’s most traditional community egg hunt.

The Molokai Lions Club Easter Egg Hunt and Decorating Contest is one of Molokai’s most awaited Easter events. At 9 a.m. sharp, dozens of children, divided in three age groups, were lined up and ready. Holding dearly to their Easter baskets, they patiently waited for the announcer to give them the go to pick up the hundreds of eggs spread through the grass field. Only three of those eggs were the sought-after golden eggs.

In a matter of minutes, it was all over. Kekai Cabalar, Mallory Go, and Kalei Davies were the lucky golden-egg finders.

Lions Club members, with the help of Molokai High School Leo Club, colored every single egg in the event.

Children also participated by entering the craft contest. Lions Club distributed prizes for best Easter bonnet, best Easter basket, and best Easter egg.

Molokai Lions Club helps out the island community with several projects. Linda Mina, who spearheaded Saturday’s event, said the club’s main project is the annual Give the Gift of Sight. Last year over 1,000 residents had their eyes screened. Almost that many received free prescription glasses.

Mahalo to Molokai Lions Club for bringing the community together in such a special celebration.

Superferry Storm Carries On

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

Kauai’s Koohan Paik is writing a book about the Hawaii Superferry. The young writer is following Superferry meetings across the state. Putting together a puzzle of information gathered on public meetings and newspaper articles, she believes the ferry will end up being heavily utilized by the military

Department of Transit starts Environmental Impact Statement.

By Léo Azambuja

The Superferry controversy has generated a lot of turmoil in Hawaii. After months sailing against a sea of legal and technical problems, the vessel remains dry-docked since Feb. 13, with plans to return to operations April 22.

The Alakai, which translates to potbellied or leader, depending on where the okina is placed, is a controversy in itself. After spending $40 million in harbor repairs and $180 million on loan guarantees to the Superferry, the State Government does not have much to show for it.

Adding to tax-payers’ losses, the Department of Transit (DOT) recently announced a new Harbors Modernization Plan. The DOT’s plan will cover six harbors statewide, will last six years, and is budgeted at $842 million, which will come from the Harbors Special Fund. Four of those harbors will go through special renovations to accommodate the Superferry.

A special Legislature session in late 2007 decided the State has to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which will add yet another $1 million in tax payers’ expenses.

Opponents of the Herculean twin-hulled ferry have organized several protests against the company, and have even put themselves in harm’s way, by blocking the boat from entering Nawiliwili Harbor on its second voyage to Kauai.

Superferry opponents on Maui and on Kauai fear that the boat’s operations will bring irreversible environmental damages and traffic chaos to their islands.

As much as environmental and social impacts lurk beneath the surface, such as humpback whale collisions, drug trafficking, invasive species propagation, and traffic jams, Oahu’s large population gives the Superferry a positive outcome in statewide surveys. Neighbor Islands’ surveys have yet to be conducted, but large groups of residents there have showed strong opposition to the Superferry.

Just about eight months ago, Governor Linda Lingle appointed Michael Formby as the DOT Deputy Director, overseeing the harbors’ division. Formby inherited probably the biggest controversy the DOT had to face in recent years.

Just days before the Superferry’s maiden voyage, the Hawaii Supreme Court halted the ferry’s operations by mandating an Environmental Assessment (EA) to be conducted.

The DOT hired Belt Collins Hawaii, Ltd. to prepare an EIS. Lesley Matsumoto, director of environmental consulting at Belt Collins, said the normal course of action would have required an EA before an EIS. But the DOT is now obliged to conduct an EIS because lawmakers decided it during the special Legislature session in late 2007.

Matsumoto explained an EA evaluates general impacts on the environment. If the government decides there are significant impacts, “then the next level is the EIS.”

Matsumoto said the Superferry will continue to operate while the EIS is being prepared. The after-the-fact EIS will evaluate the environmental consequences of the Superferry operations and its secondary impacts. She said the findings will not stop the ferry; instead, the EIS may include additional restrictions on the company’s operations.

When the Supreme Court decision temporarily halted the ferry’s operation last year, Senator Kalani English said he supported the decision. "The EIS was required under the law," he said. "It's been my position all along."

Formby does not agree. According to him, no law had been broken when former DOT Deputy Director Barry Fukunaga gave the Superferry an EA waiver.

“That’s the way business was done,” Formby said, explaining that the Office of Environmental Quality Control (OEQC) used to put certain items on a list of approved exemptions. Formby said "it was the position of DOT Harbors, at the time, that the harbor improvements being implemented by DOT for a ferry were covered by the list of OEQC approved DOT exemptions."

“If you put yourself in Barry Fukunaga’s place, the OEQC’s place, at the time they made those decisions, they’ll tell you they made the right decision,” Formby said.

However, times have changed. “Obviously the Supreme Court doesn’t think it was a good decision,” Formby said.

“Any time you get a landmark decision at the Supreme Court, it changes the way things are done,” Formby said. “The way we do things now is different than the way we did things before the Superferry.”

“For the community it’s for the better,” Formby said. “Now we’re looking at long term effects, secondary impacts.”

Formby wasn’t too sympathetic to Kauai’s Superferry opponents. In 2005, the company hosted informational meetings on Kauai. “Maybe 20 people showed up,” Formby said.

Formby, who says he has not seen any Kauai poll showing majority opposition to the ferry, called opponents a “vocal minority.” Despite saying they have good arguments, Formby believes the community has “to balance the pros and the cons.”

Some of the main concerns of Kauai residents relate to worsening traffic jams. Formby said Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) used to bring as much as 2,000 passengers per trip, with as much as 400 of them renting cars. But NCL has pulled one vessel out, and is pulling out the second vessel soon.

In contrast, Formby says that the impact of 100-150 cars the Superferry will transport daily to Kauai is a “very small piece of the puzzle” if compared with the business formerly generated by NCL.

If NCL decides to put back its ships on Hawaiian waters, it would have to re-flag the ships, re-fit them, and ask for Congress approval. The chances of it happening are slim, according to Formby.

The Superferry may not come to Molokai, but its impact here cannot be underestimated.

“It can potentially have impacts on the island and on the residents of the island because it’s transiting the coastal waters,” Formby said. If necessary, the boat can go through the Penguin Banks “if goes at the right speed, in the right time of the season.”

Despite rumors of a proposed dredging in the harbor at Kaunakakai Wharf, Formby assured that the DOT has no plans to do so.

“I’m not aware of any maintenance schedule for Kaunakakai, and we definitely don’t have any new dredging plans for Kaunakakai,” Formby said.

A dredging would only be approved after several environmental studies, a design phase, and finally a lengthy construction phase. “There are definitely no plans for larger vessels to come in,” he said. “If we started today, it would be about 15 years before we finished it, that’s how long it takes; it’s a very long process.”

EIS public meetings

The DOT initiated a series of statewide meetings to gather community input on the EIS currently being prepared by Belt Collins Hawaii Ltd. The island of Molokai was the DOT’s first stopover.

About 30 community members showed up last week Tuesday at Kaunakakai Elementary School to tell Matsumoto and the DOT staff some of the impacts the ferry may have on the Molokai.

Most testifiers were concerned about how the EIS would protect whales and seals from colliding with the vessel. Humpback whales and Hawaiian monk seals are protected by strict federal laws, and some residents do not believe the Superferry is able to avoid hitting them.

Resident Ruth Manu said Young Brothers, in order to accommodate the Superferry schedule in Kahului Harbor, Maui, has changed its scheduled trips to Molokai. The cargo shipper now comes to Molokai two days in a row every week, instead of spacing the trips. As a result, fresh produce availability on Molokai’s grocery store shelves has been compromised.

A series of posters showed potential impacts the Superferry may have in Hawaii. Resident Cheryl Richards wanted to know why the social-economics poster was empty. “If I’m paying the bill, I want to know why the money isn’t coming to our schools,” she said. “I’m paying the taxes and I want to know what the business plan is.”

Richards said she felt the EIS was a “cart-and-pony show.”

The meeting was organized solely to hear comments from the community. DOT officials and Belt Collins associates were not allowed to answer community concerns, which frustrated many testifiers.

“Next time you come, you give us our answers, that’s pono, that’s Hawaiian style,” Manu said.

A recorder kept track of community input, which will be included in the preparation of the EIS.

On March 14 the DOT held two meetings at Farrington High School, on Oahu, drawing only 12 people.

On March 17 the DOT carried two meetings on Maui, and on March 19 it carried two meetings on Kauai. At the time of press, there was no information on those meetings.

Governor’s Advisory Council Update

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

Department of Transportation Deputy Director Michael Formby told Molokai Advisory Council members of upcoming harbor restorations throughout the state.

State Harbors and Kawela Bridge.

By Léo Azambuja

The Governor’s Advisory Council met last week Tuesday, mainly to hear from DOT Deputy Director Michael Formby about improvements on state harbors. Kaunakakai Wharf and Kalaupapa Harbor are not in the DOT’s plans for modernizing sea cargo transportation infrastructure.

Formby said the affected harbors will include Kahului Harbor, on Maui, Honolulu and Kalaeloa harbors, on Oahu, Hilo and Kawaihae Harbor, on the Big Island, and Kauai’s Nawiliwili Harbor. Improvements will last about six years and will cost $842 million, which will come from Harbors Special Fund.

The meeting also reviewed the proposed design for the Kawela Bridge project, brought up during the council’s last meeting.

The project is scheduled to go up for a bid in late 2008, and begin construction in 2009.

The new bridge is designed to have an 80-foot concrete through below sea level. At high tide that would require pumping to remove standing water. After heavy storms that would require heavy equipment to remove rocks and debris.

Kai Hawaii’s engineer Michael Hunnemann said the bridge is not designed to solve flooding, but to alleviate it. Residents were angry that engineers did consult with area residents to come up with viable alternatives.

Department of Transit (DOT) administrator Glenn Yasui said there are funds available now. However, to solve the problem completely would be too costly, he said.

Residents said the DOT, the Department of Land and Natural Resources, the Soil and Water Conservation, the Army Corps of Engineers, and local landowners should work together to achieve a permanent solution.

Council members Kammy Purdy, Bob Granger, and Weldon Wichman advised the Governor’s liaison Charen Ching to bring the residents’ recommendations to Governor Linda Lingle. Council Jersula Manaba and Chair Janice Kalanihuia were excused.

The council’s next meeting will be April 8, and member said they will ask DLNR representatives to attend. Anyone needing special accommodations may call (808) 586-0001. For more information, email Ching at charen.ching@hawaii.gov.



Easter Arrived!

Sunday, March 16th, 2008

Easter Arrived!

Biggest egg hunt statewide opened the week before Easter.

New Branch Manager at American Savings

Saturday, March 15th, 2008

New Branch Manager at American Savings

The beautiful staff at American Savings Bank. From left to right: exiting branch manager Charlene Aquino, Grace Young, new branch manager Jodi Puaoi, Taija-Rae Espaniola, Nicky Kanemitsu-Toa, Ka`iulani Pauole, and Marcie Cameros. Missing from the picture is Toni Joao.

By Léo Azambuja 

Exciting news in town! Jodi Puaoi will be stepping up to the position of branch manager at the American Savings Bank.

Puaoi has been working for 11 years at the bank, starting as a bank teller. She is currently the bank’s personal banker, helping out customer with loans.

“I’m very excited,” Puaoi said, hardly hiding the proud smile. “I think we’re going to do many great things for the community.”

Puaoi praised the hard-working staff, which went through a major turn over last year. She said she has some new operational ideas, but will first get familiarized with the position.

Farewell to exiting branch manager Charlene Aquino, and congratulations to Puaoi, who will assume the new position on March 26.