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Friends Indeed

Word came from Maui this week that the county is providing financial aid to Moloka‘i residents feeling the impact of water rate hikes in the wake of Moloka‘i Ranch’s threat to cut off water service. The Helping Our Neighbors in Need program, through Maui Economic Opportunity, Inc., is distributing $100,000 to families that qualify.

According to an item in the Honolulu Advertiser (Wednesday, October 29), "Families with household income that falls within 80 percent of federal guidelines may qualify for payments of $20 per household member, up to $120 maximum per billing cycle. Payments are made directly to the utility company."

The same published report says that, "Consideration also is being given to residents who fall within 81 percent to 100 percent of income guidelines, with payments of $15 per household member up to $90 maximum per billing cycle."

For more information, contact Lyn McNeff at 808-249-2990.

That concludes the "public service announcement" portion of this column. What I am left with after hearing of the county’s action is a renewed sense that our community has not only the ability to help each other in times of need, but also the will. Of the two, the latter is probably the more important.

I imagine it would be easy for some people to see those impacted by the sudden surge in water rates as "them." As long as "they" have a problem and I don’t, the urge to take action is absent. The only productive response is to accept that the problems of the community are my problems, too. Maui County did that and, despite hard economic times, made it as priority to provide help.

I would contrast the county’s response to the Moloka‘i water situation with the state’s response to another situation developing in Oahu’s Kahana Valley. There, a group of tenants have asked the state to allow them to lease existing lots set aside for individuals who provide cultural resources to the ‘Ahupua‘a O Kahana Valley State Park, a "living park" that allows families with long-time ties to the valley to live there. Despite ongoing negotiations, the Attorney General issued an opinion in March that found that the new leases were not allowed under existing law. The Department of Land and Natural Resources is now evicting the affected families, while refusing to say why those evictions are necessary immediately. The DLNR has also refused to delay the evictions long enough to allow the State Legislature to address the shortcomings of current laws. It is a fairly involved story, but I encourage you to look into it.

When we see a family having a hard time, we help them. Maui county has not offered to pay the entire water bills of the families on Moloka‘i who will benefit from the Neighbors in Need program; they did what they could. Even if the DLNR can’t allow leases under the current law, the department should be willing—at the very least—to allow time for a solution to emerge. And for the DLNR to even address the question of why the eviction absolutely must proceed immediately? Clearly they are no friends of the public, indeed.

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