Environmental exemptions opponents gather at the Capitol

Community activist Choon James said of providing exemptions to urban developers, “Sweetheart exemptions should only be between sweethearts.”

Jamie Winpenny

DOWNTOWN — About two dozen community organizers and activists gathered outside the Senate chamber at the State Capitol today, united in their opposition to four bills, two in the House and two in the Senate, that will provide exemptions from various environmental requirements for developers in urban areas. The bills are touted by proponents as a “temporary” measure to “streamline” the permitting process for developers in an effort to stimulate Hawaii’s sagging economy.

Opponents, however, insist that the measure will allow the State, particularly the Public Lands Development Corporation, to skirt existing laws regarding coastal zone management, shoreline variance laws, and state environmental and cultural review laws. Speaking to the crowd, Sierra Club Director Robert Harris said, “These laws are under attack. The House has been increasingly aggressive in pressing this agenda.”

To see a summary of the bills in question, click here.

Donna Wong of Hawaii’s Thousand Friends said that these bills collectively “put all of our resources, natural and cultural, in jeopardy.” State Representative Cynthia Thielen encouraged the opposition to press on in their efforts to keep the four bills from being passed.

Kaleo Paik, introduced as a representative of the native Hawaiian community, also encouraged more opposition to the measures. “It’s not just the Hawaiians’ voice that needs to be heard.”

“Molly” from Kailua spoke to the crowd, saying that she fears a population increase in her area. Moanikeala of Makaha spoke about opposition to a current bypass road project in Leeward Oahu that jeopardizes the shoreline and native brid and marine life in the area, including the endangered Hawaiian monk seal. “This is just disastrous for our environment,” she said.

Another opponent to the bills, Larry McElheney, said, “If you look at the people supporting these bills, you should be worried.”

Wayne Takamine of the Kakaako Planning Council expressed his concerns over Governor Abercrombie’s proposed plan to allow the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to develop residential housing in Kakaako, and the potential environmental impacts of such a project should it be exempted from existing environmental safeguards.

State Representative Gil Riviere said the bills do not “streamline” the processes that govern development in Hawaii. “This is an overturning of those processes,” he said.

Republican Senator Sam Slom also spoke briefly to the crowd, acknowledging clashing with some of those in attendance in the past over regulatory issues. He criticized the “hypocrisy” of the State trying to exempt itself from its own laws. “This whole thing has been shrouded in a process that is not good for the community,” he said. Brian Shimokawa of Friends of Kakaako also made a similar call for more transparency regarding development.

Kathleen Pahinui of the North Shore discussed the importance of community involvement, and the importance of protecting existing laws which successfully stopped development along the Ka Iwi coastline and required developers to prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the developer at Turtle Bay.

Community activist Choon James said of providing exemptions to urban developers, “Sweetheart exemptions should only be between sweethearts.” The crowd laughed and applauded in agreement.

SB755, SB 2927, HB 2398, and HB 2819 will have their respective final readings at the legislature tomorrow.