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Wednesday, March 06, 2024

Kaʻū News Briefs March 6, 2024

Punalu‘u Black Sand Beach. Photo by Peter Anderson

THE CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY HAS FILED LEGAL INTERVENTION OPPOSING BLACK SAND BEACH, LLC'S request for a Special Management Area permit for its proposal for Punalu‘u. In representing itself and several community members, the Center issued a statement saying that the project would be at "one of Hawaiʻi's most renowned black sand beaches" and "would harm local residents and jeopardize threatened and endangered species, including green sea turtles and Hawaiian monk seals."
    The Windward Planning Commission will hold the public meeting this Thursday at  9 a.m. March 7 at Hawai'i County Council Chambers, 25 Aupuni St., in Hilo. It will be live-streamed on YouTube at  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCAFoRMb3rfWLQMPd6TAkEGA?view_as=subscriber.
    Maxx Phillips, Hawai‘i Director and Staff Attorney at Center for Biological Diversity, said, "The vibrant biodiversity and rich cultural history of Punaluʻu needs to be protected for generations to come, not developed for private interests. Hundreds of people have mobilized to protect this spectacular place and protest this reckless development. The community and wildlife of Punaluʻu deserve so much more and we'll do everything possible to see they get it."
Maxx Phillips, Hawai‘i Director and Staff Attorney for
 Center for Biological Diversity, will testify for a contested
case for Punalu‘u at the SMA hearing on Thursday.
 If the contested case is approved by Hawai‘i County's Windward Planning Commission, "Thursday's action would allow the Center and local residents to formally challenge the 400-acre project site development in Punaluʻu, starting with the March 7 commission meeting. Developers want to build 225 residential and short-stay units, a commercial center, retail shops and a golf course that would harm local residents and Hawaiʻi's native threatened and endangered species," said the Center's statement.
    "Nestled on the southeastern Kaʻū coast, Punaluʻu is celebrated for its breathtaking beauty, cultural significance and unique ecological diversity. This coastal haven is home to rare and endangered native animals, including hawksbill sea turtles, green sea turtles, Hawaiian monk seals, native bees and orange-black damselflies. Punaluʻu's shores are vital nesting grounds for the sea turtles.
    "Developers are relying on an outdated environmental analysis and the permit application they filed with the county fails to consider harms to the local community. Increased traffic and a surge in visitors will compromise the residents' quality of life and exacerbate existing challenges faced by Punaluʻu's fragile ecosystem," said the Center's statement.
    "My beloved mother Pele Hanoa and sister, Keolalani Hanoa worked tirelessly for many years to preserve Punaluʻu," said Elsa Kalanikauleleiaiwi Dedman, a direct descendant of Punaluʻu and a Center for Biological Diversity member. "The magic of Punaluʻu, the piko of Kaʻū, is home to some of the rarest animals in the world. I am one with my ancestors to protect the legacy of our cultural treasures on Hawaiʻi island's longest undeveloped coastline."
    Nohea Ka‘awa, a community member supporting approval of the contested case, said "There are many issues that need to be addressed before even thinking about approving the special management area use permit or considering any type of development at Punaluʻu. Our Kaʻū community is expressing concerns about the lack of a disaster mitigation plan. Emergencies like fire, floods, tsunamis, earthquakes, and volcanic eruption have not been considered. There's no burial treatment plan in place to protect our ancestors. The sewage system is leaking into our ocean as we speak, yet the developer wants us to believe that there will be no impacts. This development will lead to overpopulation and a rise in land taxes so local people cannot stay. The decision-makers have a big responsibility on their shoulders, and with the proper steps taken beforehand, a disaster waiting to happen can be prevented."
    The legal challenge calls for "a thorough reevaluation of the potential environmental and cultural harms from the development. It aims to ensure that responsible and sustainable practices are adopted to protect the delicate balance of Punaluʻu's ecosystem and the native species that depend on it to survive," says the Center's statement. 
    Guy Enriques, President of Malama Pono Punalu‘u, said, "This development goes against all the values of the Kaʻū Community Development Plan, I strongly believe that the character of these developers will always put Kala (money) before the people and lands of Kaʻū. This development will put the place that we love and cherish in jeopardy."
    Black Sand Beach, LLC has been contacted for a response to the statement from the Center for Biological Diversity. The Black Sand Beach team contended earlier that its plan will help manage vehicular and pedestrian traffic to help protect wildlife and will maintain access to the entire shoreline for the local community.
    According to Deputy Planning Director Jeff Harrow, contested case proposals should not stop or delay pro and con testimonies from being heard at the hearing on Thursday. In addition to the filing from the Center for Biological Diversity, a contested case filing has come from the seven-member board of the condo association at Punalu'u, with several non-board members expressing to the Planning Commission their opposition to the filing. 

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Reflections of Punalu‘u during its heyday as a destination for tourist dining and family events, with canoe in the pond, hale in the background. Black Sand Beach, LLC wants to bring back some of the elements of those times. Shoreline changes, visitor crowding, endangered species and other environmental considerations are also at hand, with public hearing coming up on a development plan at 9 a.m. Thursday in Hilo County Council Chambers, and by Zoom at Nāʻālehu Community Center and Kai'Lokis in Ocean View. Photo from Black Sand Beach, LLC

BLACK SAND BEACH, LLC, WHICH PROPOSES A PROJECT UP FOR PUBLIC HEARING THURSDAY, released this letter to the Kaʻū community on Wednesday evening:
    Dear Kaʻū Community,
    Over the past month, various opinions and demonstrations have emerged in our Kaʻū community regarding the public hearing on the Punalu‘u SMA, transforming our once beautiful and friendly town into a place filled with tension. Many in the community have expressed regret and sadness over this. We do not wish to see strife within the community; we have chosen to be quiet and listen.    
    Over the past four years, we have communicated numerous times with the community about our development plan for Punalu'u. We understand the situation and needs of our community. More importantly, we chose to come to Puanalu'u not just as developers, but also as individuals who aspire to be permanent residents and good neighbors. Therefore, we have strived to help our community with limited development, bringing convenience to everyday life and good job opportunities, allowing parents to avoid spending 3-4 hours commuting to work each day.
    In the past few years, when communicating our development plans with the community, the most common and heartfelt response we received was: "You can't please everyone." However, we have still tried to communicate as widely as possible with the community. After four years, we have finalized our current plan. We are grateful to the community for appreciating us as the first developer willing to communicate deeply with them.

Old days of the restaurant, museum, shop at Punalu‘u Black
 Sand Beach Pond. Photo from Black Sand Beach, LLC

    After extensive communication with the community, we know that the aspects of development in Punalu‘u that are of greatest concern to the community are: the coastal area, the number of units in the project, and the area of the old restaurant, which represents the history and culture of Punalu‘u.
    Here are the key decisions we have made for our Punalu‘u development plan:
    1. The entire coastline will be permanently open to the community and not privatized.
   2. The units will total 225, which is 7.5% of the 1967 development plan and 12.3% of the 2006 development plan.
   3. The old restaurant will be restored as the Punalu‘u Garden, primarily open to the community as an information center, a center for historical and cultural education, and a venue for various community gatherings. After multiple discussions with the principals of 
Nāʻālehu and Pāhala schools, part of the area will be made available to the schools as a base for student learning and education.
     It's important to note that on the other side of the old restaurant area, we plan to establish an open market. This will provide equal and favorable business opportunities for every small and medium-sized enterprise in the community.
    Additionally, we welcome and hope to hear various opinions and suggestions from the community. For example, a community member kindly raised issues about sewage treatment, clean energy, and sustainable development. We will answer these as best as we can. 
The feast in the days of the Punalu'u Village Restaurant. Photo from Black Sand, LLC

    We will present more details at the public hearing tomorrow through the Planning Department and our team. We look forward to your attention and participation, as well as hearing your views. Even if not everyone can speak, each person can fully hear about our Punalu'u development plan and the voices from the community.
    Friendly Reminder 1: We thank Uncle Guy for gathering friends from all over the Big Island and Hawai‘i last Saturday to attend the Punalu‘u public hearing. He also plans to provide bus services to bring interested attendees to the meeting center. We deeply appreciate this thoughtful arrangement, as it will enable them to understand the development plan for Punalu‘u correctly and make their own judgments and statements based on the information they hear.
    Friendly Reminder 2: In last Saturday's demonstration against the development of Punalu‘u organized by Uncle Guy, there was strong opposition to the open market plan. This issue is difficult to address because the open market plan was formed through communication with the community. It is specially designed for the entire community to have fair business opportunities and will belong to the whole community, not just one family.

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TO COMBAT AGRICULTURAL THEFT, KAʻŪ'S COUNTY COUNCIL MEMBER MICHELLE GALIMBA and Councilwomen Heather Kimball and Cynthia Evans have funded three certified agricultural produce scales. 
    Hawai'i Police Department sent out a mahalo, noting that each portable scale can weigh more than 500 pounds of produce and print out a receipt showing the total poundage. The three scales, valued at $1,500 each, will be kept at the Hilo, Kona, and South Kohala police stations for use by police investigating agricultural thefts. “It’s a really great tool that helps both police and prosecutors,” said Lieutenant William Derr of HPD’s Hilo Community Policing Section.“We can take the scale to remote parts of the island or farmers markets, weigh the produce on the spot, and return it to its rightful owner.”
    The collaborative effort to procure the scales was spearheaded by retired Hawai‘i County Prosecutor and community advocate Charlene Iboshi, along with the County of Hawai‘i Office of the Prosecuting Attorney, and the County Office of Research & Development. Council members used their discretionary funds to pay for the equipment.
    The scales, which the police department received at the end of February, were quickly put to use and already instrumental in prosecuting a case, said the HPD statement. 
HPD Lieutenant William Derr, Glenn Sako, County Office of Research and Development, Charlene Iboshi, Councilwoman Heather Kimball District 1, Councilwoman Michelle Galimba District 6, Councilwoman Cindy Evans District 9, Shane
Muramaru, Office of the Prosecuting Attorney. Photo from HPD

    “The day after we received the scale at the Hilo station, we received a call from officers in the Hāmākua district requesting to use it in an agricultural theft case involving more than 100 pounds of bananas,” said Derr.
    Additionally, HPD recently collaborated with the Office of Research and Development on a new, online, and fillable self-reporting form regarding agricultural theft. The form is available on the County’s website, https://www.hawaiicounty.gov/Home/Components/News/News/3557/, and simplifies the reporting process for victims, police officers, and prosecutors.
    Hawai‘i Police Department is committed to working diligently on addressing agricultural theft, a frequently underreported, yet devastating crime that impacts our island’s farmers and ranchers.
    “With the certified scales the prosecution of offenders can now be carried out more successfully, thanks to the council members’ gracious contributions,” said Derr. “We are optimistic about our ongoing collaboration with Hawai‘i County Council members and fellow county departments as we continue to develop additional innovative solutions to combat this type of crime.”

To read comments, add your own, and like this story, see facebook.com/kaucalendar. See latest print edition at kaucalendar.com, in the mail and on stands.

BE ON THE ALERT FOR MEASLES, as international and continental U.S. outbreaks increase, That's the message from the state Department of Health on Wednesday. DOH noted that 16 states are affected as of Feb. 29. DOH also sent an advisory to physicians, urging them to be vigilant.

    "Hawai‘i has not experienced any recent outbreaks or spread of measles within the state, but infection can be just a plane ride away," said State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble. "Current outbreaks in the U.S.

Measles can a rash all over and conjunctivitis in the eyes. Some cases
lead to death. Photo from American Optometric Association
and abroad are a serious concern because of our popularity as an international and domestic travel destination and our frequent traveler resident population. Both groups have the potential to introduce and spread measles."
    According to the Department of Health, "The best way to prevent measles is to get vaccinated with the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. DOH encourages everyone to check their records and contact their healthcare provider if they need to be immunized. Before international travel or travel to areas experiencing a measles outbreak, infants ages six through 11 months should receive one dose of MMR vaccine. Children ages 12 months and older, as well as teenagers and adults without evidence of immunity, should receive two doses of MMR vaccine separated by at least 28 days."
    MMR coverage rates have dropped among children globally, nationally, and locally here in Hawai‘i since pre-pandemic years. Based on recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Hawai‘i's 2022-2023 kindergarten coverage rate is estimated to be 86.4%, which is nearly 10% lower than the 95% coverage level recommended for community protection. Hawai‘i had the largest increase in non-medical kindergarten vaccine exemptions nationally from 2021-2022 to 2022-2023. "Staying up to date on routine vaccinations is an effective way of protecting our families and the larger community from measles outbreaks," said the DOH statement.
"The decline in routine childhood vaccination rates is concerning for a potential measles outbreak in Hawai‘i," said Dr. Kenneth Fink, Director of Health. "Whereas unvaccinated and immunocompromised individuals can be protected by community immunity, weʻre now below that threshold for measles putting this group at risk. Vaccination helps protect the person vaccinated and the community. I encourage parents who are hesitant about vaccination to discuss their concerns with their child's healthcare provider."
    Measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000, but remains a very contagious disease that is caused by a virus and can be serious. It spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Measles starts with fever, followed by cough, runny nose, and redness in the white parts of the eyes. Then a rash of tiny, red spots breaks out. It starts at the head and spreads to the rest of the body.
    Measles can cause serious health complications, especially in children less than a year old, pregnant individuals, and persons who have a weakened immune system. According to the CDC, one out of every 20 children with measles gets pneumonia, and one out of 1,000 develops encephalitis (swelling of the brain). Nearly one to three out of 1,000 children who become infected with measles, will die from respiratory and neurologic complications.
    More information about measles is available at https://www.cdc.gov/measles/index.html.

Kaʻū News Briefs March 5, 2024


Kaʻū Hospital and its Rural Health Clinic are expected to benefit from a $50 million donation to sister facility Hilo Medical Center through funding from Lynne and Marc Benioff for physician recruitment and additional specialized facilities and services in Hilo. Photo by Julia Neal

$50 MILLION WILL GO TO KAʻŪ HOSPITAL'S SISTER FACILITY HILO MEDICAL CENTER from Lynne Benioff and Marc Benioff, CEO and Chair of SalesForce. Benioff ranks 224th among the richest billionaires in the world, with $10.5B, as reported by Bloomberg on March 5.
    Benioff has maintained residences on this island for nearly 50 years, owns homes in Kohala Coast resort communities and purchased numerous properties in Kamuela, according to a recent story on National Public Radio. According to Bloomberg, Benioff signs off letters to stockholders with the word Aloha.
    Hawai‘i Gov. Josh Green, who started his Hawai‘i medical career in Kaʻū, said, "Before becoming governor, I worked as an ER doctor in these hospitals, so I know what it means to have a true benefactor step up and rescue services. This huge donation will support the care for thousands of critically ill people in Hawai'i. This generosity is a game-changer for our state."
    One of the Benioffs' major focuses in philanthropy is health. Marc Benioff said, “If you want to have impact, it is important to have focus — and the biggest focus in our philanthropy has been public health because it’s where we feel we can have the biggest impact. But we’ve always been committed to supporting a strong safety net in Hawai‘i in many areas and have invested heavily in schools, public parks, affordable housing, health care and first responders.”
    Hilo Medical Center will be renamed The Benioff Hilo Medical Center. Also renamed will be Straub in Honolulu. It will become the Straub Benioff Medical Center. Straub will receive improvements through a Benioff gift of $100 million to Hawai‘i Pacific Health, one of Hawai‘i's largest healthcare nonprofits, to create a "healthcare campus of the future" at Straub.

Additional physician recruitment through new funding could help
PA Benjamin Lawlor and Medical Director Dr. Jennifer Shrestha at
Kaʻū Hospital and its Rural Health Clinic. Photo from Ka‘ū Hospital

   The Benioff donations will help Kaʻū through improving the physician recruitment program. Kaʻū residents will also benefit from improvements to Hilo Hospital, where Kaʻū patients are often admitted to receive specialized care. The $50 million donation will help construct a new intensive care unit with a wing containing 19 more ICU beds and 36 more patient beds. The funding will also go toward a 12-bed state-of-the-art family birthing center, neurosurgical program and behavioral health services.
    Funding from the Benioffs will also connect hospitals here with San Francisco-based UCSF Health, which runs University of California San Francisco Medical Center and UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals to expand its efforts to support Hawai'i patients in need of specialist care. UCSF will extend its clinical expertise across the Pacific and bring specialized care in oncology and neurology to more residents across the state.
    Hilo Medical Center CEO Dan Brinkman said its groundbreaking will be held in April. The project has received another $50 million from the State of Hawai‘i. “We’re very excited about this,” said Brinkman. “We’re really counting our blessings here, and we have a whole lot of work to do.”
   The gifts bring the Ben­ioffs’ total philanthropy in Hawai‘i to more than $250 million, which includes a recent gift of 282 acres to a Hilo-based nonprofit for affordable housing.
Marc Benioff, and wife Lynne, have donated $50 million to Hilo Medical
 Center, which will also benefit patients at Kaʻū Hospital & Rural Health Clinic.
Photo from NPR
    The Benioffs have also funded state-of-the-art medical helicopters and firetrucks, made previous contributions to Hilo Medical Center and supported the Hawai‘i Island Community Health Center and Kona Hospital Foundation, among others.
    Fire safety has long been a priority for the Benioffs, years before the Lahaina fires in August. Since 2017 they have partnered with the Sayre Foundation to donate a dozen firetrucks, including tankers, and to help bring a rescue boat and two state-of-the-art medical helicopters to Hawai‘i.
    “Our islands have lost so much to fire,” said Benioff. “We all have to do more to support and protect our first responders, who do so much to help keep us safe in Hawai‘i.”
   With the latest contribution, Benioff said he’s not done giving to Hawai‘i, which he has considered home since 1974.
   “Lynne and I are excited to become more public givers to inspire others to give back to and support this beautiful community and to cultivate a more robust culture of philanthropy in Hawai‘i,” he said in a statement. “With this gift we’re more than doubling our total giving in Hawai‘i — and we’ll keep going.
“Investing in Hawai‘i is a major focus for us, and we will continue to support critical needs like public health, affordable housing, education and the environment,” he continued. “This gift is a north star for us that sets our direction for future giving and hopefully inspires others to give as well.”

APPLICATIONS FOR FIVE STEWARDSHIP TRAINEES FOR KAʻŪ ARE OPEN. The Kaʻū Hoa Pili ‘Āina training will be conducted by Ka ‘Ohana  O Honu‘apo and Hawai‘i Wildlife Fund and provide a monthly stipend.           Applications will close on March 15. Applicants must be 18 years or older and live in the Kaʻū moku. The two organizations are seeking trainees "who enjoy all things malama ‘āina or just want to learn more about how to best steward your moku."                    The five-month program will run from March 29 through Aug. 31. Trainees must be able to attend work and volunteer days, be "willing to learn new things and able to possess a positive attitude and love your ‘āina."    Trainees engage with community groups doing work in Kaʻū, learn mo‘olelo and cultural protocols, complete CPR and First Aid training, and receive training from professionals with a wide variety of experience from honu to hoku.
      No previous stewardship experience is necessary. Send email to kaohanaohonuapo@gmail.com and provide phone number, place of residence, brief introduction and statement of interest in the stewardship training program. The organizations recently completed stewardship training in Kaʻū with a grant from Hawai‘i Tourism Authority.