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Friday, November 03, 2023

Kaʻū News Briefs Friday, Nov. 3, 2023

Helicopter pilot David Okita flies many missions over Kaʻū related to conservation, land use and firefighting.
Photo by Shalan Crysdale/TNC

DAVID OKITA, A HELICOPTER PILOT WELL KNOWN BY KAʻŪ RANCHERS, FARMERS, EMERGENCY SERVICE PERSONNEL AND CONSERVATIONISTS, has received the Kāko‘o ‘Āina Award for his work with The Nature Conservancy to support conservation of Hawai‘i Island's watersheds for four decades.
    "It is our sincere honor to recognize and celebrate Dave, who has been a trusted and dedicated partner to many who mālama ‘āina," said Ulalia Woodside Lee, the executive director of TNC's Hawai‘i and Palmyra Program. "Dave's deep knowledge of landscapes and ecosystems coupled with his dedication to Hawai‘i has made an immeasurable contribution to conservation."
    Having been involved in nearly every conservation project on the island of Hawai‘i during his career, Okita has flown researchers and land managers in and out of remote valleys and rainforests; piloted
Shaylan Crysdale, Hawai'i Island Program Manager for The Nature Conservancy, left, with
TNC officials and David Okita, center, center, recipient of the Kākoʻo ʻĀina Award.
Photo from TNC
surveys of ungulates and spotted invasive plants and animals in places they did not belong; delivered materials to build hundreds of miles of fences protecting endangered plants and forested watersheds; and rescued lost hikers from these isolated places. In addition, land managers have relied heavily on Okita for fighting wildfires.
    Due to the nature of his job as a helicopter pilot, Okita has been able to detect patterns across the landscape such as a decline in native canopy cover and an increase in problematic weed infestations. After axis deer were illegally introduced to Hawaiʻi Island in 2009, he piloted the response team into position to detect and remove them in the early 2010s.
David Okita on one of his many land and wildlife
conservation missions. Photo by Shaylan Crysdale
    Established in 2006, TNC's Kākoʻo ʻĀina Award honors groups and individuals who have provided significant and long-standing support for conservation in Hawai'i. "Kāko‘o ‘Āina" translates to "one who supports the land."                                    Previous Kāko‘o ‘Āina awards have been presented on Hawaiʻi Island in 2006 to Jack Jeffrey, in 2012 to Bill Gilmartin, and in 2015 to Kuʻulei Keakealani, Leinaʻala Keakealani Lightner, and Hannah Springer.
    The Kākoʻo ʻĀina award presentation included a koʻokoʻo, or staff, hand-carved by master Hawaiian woodworker Kunāne Wooton, and an oli, or chant, composed by TNC staff.

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A WILDFIRE SAFETY STRATEGY by Hawaiian Electric has led to actions by the utility, particularly in drought-stricken areas at elevated risk for wildfires. "With the events of Aug. 8 fresh in our minds, safety remains our top priority, and as drought conditions continue, Hawai‘i is seeing heightened risks for wildfires across the state, as we have seen this week with a fire near Mililani. We are building upon our current strategy and implementing new and expanded practices to further reduce the risk of wildfires," said Jim Alberts, senior vice president and chief operations officer of Hawaiian Electric.
    Hawaiʻi Emergency Management Agency recently named wildfires as the top hazard in the state as part of its statewide hazard mitigation plan. Ongoing drought conditions, dry vegetation and potential impacts to the community, cultural resources and economy were all factors that contributed to the ranking. In that
report, HiEMA noted statistically there is a 100% chance of wildfires occurring in Hawaiʻi in any given year with an average of 12 events per year.
    The statement from the utility company says, "Hawaiian Electric first began developing its Wildfire Safety Strategy in 2019 and continues to adapt it to address the elevated risks in Hawai‘i. Hawaiian Electric is focusing its efforts in areas identified by the state of Hawaiʻi as being at risk for wildfires."
    Hawaiian Electric announced a first phase of immediate actions, including:
    In the event of red flag warnings issued by the National Weather Service, which indicate a combination of warm temperatures, low humidity and strong, sustained winds, the company will deploy spotters to strategic locations in risk areas to watch for ignition.
    If a fault or disturbance is detected on a circuit, power lines in risk areas shut off automatically until crews visually confirm that it is safe to restore power. This may result in longer outages in some areas, including outages that last overnight.
    Hawaiian Electric announced that "Over time, the company will deploy more advanced sensors, cameras and other technology to reduce the likelihood of longer outages and the need for visual observation."
    The second phase includes work underway or to soon be underway to harden the grid against extreme weather events and reduce potential hazards. That includes: Expanding inspections of poles and lines, using helicopters, drones, infrared and ground inspection.
    Addressing sag and tension in lines and adding spacers to reduce the potential for sparking.
    Switching from single-strand copper, which can become brittle over time, to aluminum wire or covered conductor in some areas.
    Replacing wood poles with steel poles in some areas.
Continuing vegetation management efforts adjacent to power lines.
    Using fault current indicators, quickly identifying the location of faults.
    Installing cameras and weather sensors in critical areas.
    Hawaiian Electric also announced that it is advancing work on its $190 million grid resilience plan to harden against wildfires, hurricanes, tsunamis and flooding, and to adapt to climate change impacts. Half of this multi-year program is to be paid by the federal government with the other half matched by customers, pending approval by the Public Utilities Commission.
    The third phase will be longer term and will use a variety of tools to address continuing and emerging threats from extreme weather and climate change. Some of those tools are expected to include:
    Providing more precision in wildfire-focused weather forecasting and risk modeling;
    Undergrounding power lines in strategic at-risk areas;
    Expanding use of covered power lines, fast-acting fuses and fire-resistant poles and equipment;
    Seeking support for expanded hazard tree removal, wider rights-of-way, and rights of access for clearing vegetation that threatens equipment;
    Continuing collaboration with fire departments and emergency management agencies to refine the overall strategy;
    Seeking more federal funding for wildfire defense programs;
    Hawaiian Electric has also begun discussions with government, emergency response and community stakeholders to determine how a Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) program can be designed and implemented in a way that is appropriate for each county and its ability to ensure public safety when power is shut off, potentially for multiple days.
    A PSPS would shut off power in certain areas before extreme weather events as an additional means to reduce the risk of a wildfire. Successful use of PSPS would require extensive coordination across all levels of government, first responders, essential service providers and the community because of its broad impact. Enhanced technology, weather forecasting, customer education, plans for backup for critical customers and community hubs and resources would also need to be in place for a PSPS to be safe and effective.
    "As the phases of Hawaiian Electric's Wildfire Safety Strategy are successfully executed, PSPS could become the tool of last resort, not the first option," said Hawaiian Electric.

MORE FUNDING FOR THE HAWAI‘I FIRE DEPARTMENT  TO DEAL WITH WILDFIRES is urged in a resolution from Hawai‘i County Council this week. It asks for increased capacity and funding to "proactively mitigate the potential impacts of wildfires." The resolution says that Hawai‘i Fire Department's mission encompasses preventing, mitigating, and responding to fires, as well as addressing other emergencies such as medical incidents, hazardous materials situations, and natural disasters. It notes that "Hawaiʻi has experienced an alarming increase in the number of wildfires in recent history, and these wildfires have exhibited greater size, intensity, duration, and destruction, largely attributed to changes in our climate, including prolonged periods of drought, extreme weather conditions, and accumulation of hazardous fuel sources," and that "These evolving wildfire patterns pose a significant threat to the health, safety, and well-being of our community, environment, and economy."
A range fire that threatened Pāhala years ago, as seen from Punalu‘u. Photo by Geneveve Fyvie

    The Council's resolution reports that, "Fire  seasons” have transformed into entire “fire years” where a year-round workforce is required for suppression, recovery, and planning for future wildfires. The resolution contends that  "a proactive and comprehensive strategy is essential to preventing wildfires, including investment in fire prevention measures such as creating firebreaks, conducting controlled burns, and promoting public awareness and education." It says that "in addition to fire prevention, investments must be made in firefighter training, apparatus, equipment, and facilities maintenance to ensure that HFD personnel have the necessary resources to safely and effectively combat fires and respond to emergencies and that " successful recruitment and retention of our HFD career firefighters is of paramount importance to maintain the highest level of fire protection and emergency response services for the people of our community, ensuring their continued safety and well-being."
     The resolution also brings up the volunteer firefighter program, which "complements our dedicated career firefighters during emergency situations and must operate in strict adherence to the established policies, rules, and regulations formulated by HFD to ensure a volunteer’s safety as well as effective and coordinated emergency response services."ce of the Mayor allocate funding and assist with securing grants for wildfire prevention, to support the development of comprehensive mitigation strategies such as improving forest and watershed health, and enhancing community preparedness. 
    The resolution asks the Mayor to include  "adequate funding for firefighter training, apparatus, equipment and facilities maintenance in Hawaiʻi County’s annual budgets to ensure that HFD is equipped to carry out its mission effectively." It asks for "an assessment of the volunteer fire department’s effectiveness and sustainability be completed, with a subsequent recommendation regarding the program’s feasibility and future."
     The resolution was sent to the County's Mayor, Managing Director, Director of Department of Finance, Chief of Hawaiʻi Fire Department, Director of Department of Research & Development, members of the Hawaiʻi County Fire Commission, and President of the Hawaiʻi Fire Fighters Association.

    USDA Farm to School Grant Program. USDA Patrick Leahy Farm to School Grant Program is designed to help implement farm-to-school programming to increase access to local food in eligible schools, connect children with agriculture for improved health, and inspire youth to consider careers in agriculture. For more information and to apply, visit the program's website. Applications are due by Friday, Jan. 12, 2024.

    UH AgConnect program internships and apprenticeships. University of Hawaiʻi AgConnect program matches Hawaiʻi ag producers with skilled ag technicians to grow their existing businesses. This 16-week program is a Hawaiʻi Community College non-credit course where interns are matched with hosts to work side by side, complete a two-year business plan together, and have conversations about their goals and visions for agriculture in Hawaiʻi. For more information and to apply, visit their website.

    Office of Hawaiian Affairs introduces the new Mahi ʻAi Agricultural Loan Program through its Native Hawaiian Revolving Loan Fund to support Native Hawaiian farmers on Hawaiʻi Island and across Hawaiʻi. In addition to low interest rates, new borrowers have the option of deferring their loan payments for the first six months without incurring additional interest. For more information on the Mahi ʻAi Agricultural Loan Program, visit the website, email NHRLF@ohaloanfund.org, or call the OHA office in East Hawaiʻi (Hilo) at (808) 933-3106 or West Hawaiʻi (Kona) at (808) 327-9525.

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AN OCEAN VIEW MAN WANTED FOR KIDNAPPING is sought by police. He is also wanted for third-degree assault, first-degree terroristic threatening, and third-degree theft. His name is Lee Todd Mallon and he is described as Caucasian, 5 feet 9 inches tall, 165 pounds, with long brown hair and brown eyes.
Police are looking for Lee Todd
Mallon of Ocean View. HPD photo
    Known to frequent the Kona and Ka‘ū areas, Mallon is considered armed and dangerous, and police urge members of the public to use caution and not attempt to contact Mallon.
    Police would like to remind the public that anyone who hinders the apprehension of a wanted person by providing money, transportation, weapons, disguise, or other means of avoiding discovery, apprehension, prosecution, or conviction, may be subject to the offense of hindering prosecution. First-degree hindering prosecution is a class C felony, and second-degree hindering prosecution is a misdemeanor.
    Anyone with information on Mallon’s whereabouts is asked to contact 911 or the police department’s non-emergency number at (808) 935-3311. They may also contact Detective Cacique Melendez at (808) 326-4646 ext. 281; or via email at cacique.melendez@hawaiicounty.gov.
    Tipsters who prefer to remain anonymous may call Crime Stoppers at (808) 961-8300 and may be eligible for a reward of up to $1,000.