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Friday, March 22, 2024

Kaʻū News Briefs March 22, 2024

Truth in labeling of Hawaiian Macadamia products is addressed by a bill moving through the
2024 Hawai'i Legislature. Photo from Hawaiian Macadamia Nut Co.
LEGISLATION TO PROTECT THE MACADAMIA NUT INDUSTRY THROUGH TRUTH IN LABELING is moving forward during the 2024 Hawai'i Legislature. The macadamia nut industry is one of the largest employers in Kaʻū.
    House Bill 2278 would require the country of origin to be included on the principal display panel of a consumer package of raw and processed macadamia nuts.
    Testimony from local supporters of the measure came from Macadamia Nut Services, LLC, Edmund C. Olson Trust 2, OK Farms, Hamakua Macadamia Nut Co., Kaʻū Farms Management, LLC; Kapāpala Ranch; Hawai'i Farm Bureau; Hawai'i Farmers Union United, Macadamia Growers of Hawai'i and more organizations, farms and individuals.
    Opposition came from Hawaiian Host Group, which purchased Mauna Loa and MacFarms and is known to import nuts to use in its Hawai'i-labeled macadamia products. Submitting testimony against the bill were numerous workers at its Kapua Orchards and Hawaiian Host's management team, claiming they could use their jobs if their company was not allowed to use foreign nuts, when needed.
Hawaiian Macadamia Nut Co. and Hawaiian Macadamia Nut Services,
which sell 100% Hawaiian, fear a shut down if products are labeled
Hawai'i when most of the mac nuts come from other countries.
Photo from Hawaiian Macadamia Nut Co.
    Reggie Souza, Orchard Manager for Macadamia Nut Services, LLC, which farms thousands of acres in Kaʻū, wrote, " I am a farmer of Hawai’i-grown macadamia nuts in the districts of Kea‘au and Kaʻū on the Big Island. I am pleading with you to strongly support HB2278 HD2, Relating to Labeling of Macadamia Nuts. I have farmed macadamia nuts for 36 years. Throughout all of these years, I have witnessed so many challenges that our macadamia nut industry has had to endure, especially after the covid pandemic. 
    "Today, the Hawai‘i macadamia nut farmers like me are facing the greater challenge of having to compete with low-cost foreign kernels. Well-known local brands have replaced our nuts with foreign macadamia nuts in their products but have continued to market their products as Hawai'i-grown nuts. This is deceptive to Hawai‘i’s people and visitors. 
    "Growers are just asking that companies be required to label the origin of their nuts. HB2278 HD2 will give Hawai‘i growers a chance to keep our jobs and save Hawai'i’s macadamia nut industry. Like many of our employees, I too have family members working for our company.
    "My wife, sons, daughter, and son-in-law all work in the industry. Employees who live and work in  Kaʻū are proud of what we do and have virtually no other job options in the area because Kaʻū is an hour and a half drive from Hilo and it’s also an hour and a half drive to Kona. 
    "Pāhala is a small rural community that is an old sugar plantation farming town that farms coffee and macadamia nuts. We currently employ multiple families in this area. What will happen to these families if we can no longer stay in business? 
    "As a macadamia nut farmer, my biggest fear is that we will end up just like sugar and pineapple; closed down. We have 180 employees, and the majority of them are ILWU members. This also affects the smaller local macadamia farmers. Some of them have suffered so badly that they have now begun to clear off the macadamia nut trees from their land. It’s sad to see these trees that have taken nearly 20 years to reach maturity be cut down."
    The House of Representatives Committee on Consumer Protection & Commerce issued a statement saying, "Hawai'i is currently the fifth largest producer of macadamia nuts in the world, but the macadamia nut industry faces significant environmental and economic pressures, including competition from out-of-state and foreign macadamia nut growers. 
   "Your Committee further finds that certain businesses may be using company names with Hawaiian words or images of Hawai'i to mislead consumers into thinking that the macadamia nuts in their products were grown in Hawai'i when in fact they were not. This measure bolsters the State's existing protections
on the labelling of the origin of macadamia nuts to protect the Hawai'i brand."

   The Consumer Protection & Commerce Committee approved the bill and referred it to the Committee on Judiciary & Hawaiian Affairs. The measure went before the Senate Committee on Commerce & Consumer Protection on Wednesday and was approved for further consideration.

    The Hawai'i Legislature issued a report saying: The legislature finds that Hawai'i-grown commodities of the State are an important sector of Hawai'i’s economy and the branding of these commodities is critical to protect and safeguard consumers. The macadamia nut production industry in Hawai'i is one such example.

    According to statistics from the United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service, the value of the macadamia-nut crop in Hawai'i in 2022 totaled $33,200,000. Accordingly, the purpose of this Act is to enhance, preserve, and protect the premium brand and cachet of Hawai'i grown macadamia nuts by clarifying the labeling requirements for macadamia nuts, including requiring the country of origin to be included on the principal display panel of a consumer package of raw or processed macadamia nuts."

    Follow the bill and see all the testimony at https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/session/measure_indiv.aspx?billtype=HB&billnumber=2278&year=2024

To read comments, add your own, and like this story, see facebook.com/kaucalendar. See upcoming events, print edition and archive at kaunews.com. See 7,500 copies the mail and on stands.

MAYOR MITCH ROTH DELIVERED HIS STATE OF THE COUNTY ADDRESS on Friday, focusing on Malama ʻĀina, Hawaiian culture, the county workforce, affordable housing, building permitting, homelessness, parks and recreation, infrastructure, safety and the cost of living.
    Regarding environment and Malama ʻĀina, the Mayor's list of accomplishments includes acquisition of more land for Public Access, Open Space, and Natural Resource Preservation than any previous administration, preserving over 4,100 acres for future generations. He also pointed to plans to acquire four new electric buses and one new hydrogen bus for the free county Hele On service. He noted that Hele On will remain free at least through 2025. He also pointed to the formation of Office of Climate, Sustainability, Equity & Resilience, led by Director Bethany Morrision "to ensure continuity of sustainability-focused initiatives beyond the current administration."
   Regarding Hawaiian culture, the Mayor pointed to establishment of an Indigenous Data science Division at Department of Research & Development led by Director Doug Adams and Deptuty Frecia Cevallos. He said the initiative Pehea Ka ʻĀina, Ola Ka ʻĀina, led by indigenous data specialists Hokulani Fortunato and Malia Silva-Meeken, focuses on "transforming governance on Hawai'i by fostering a deep connection between the land and its people." 
    He said the initiative Ku'ikahi Na'auao provides, "county employees with opportunities to learn
Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke, left of Mayor Mitch Roth at the State of the
County address on Friday. Photo by Cyrus Johnasen

Hawaiian culture, including lei-making, hula, oil (chanting) and significant events in Hawaiian history. Incorporation of cultural practices such as oli and piko protocol into County events" provides employees with "a deeper understanding of Hawaiian culture," says the statement from the Mayor's office.
   Regarding the county workforce, the Mayor pointed to "Creation of opportunities for greater work flexibility, including telecommuting, flexible work schedules and an Alternative Work Schedule Pilot Program with the union, Hawai' Government Employees Association. The program is led by Department of Human Resources Director Sommer Tokihiro and Deputy Danny Patel. He also addressed a Professional Intern Pilot Program, starting in July and enhancements to the Tuition Reimbursement Program and a $1 million employee training fund for county employees.
   Regarding affordable housing, the Mayor highlighted the Office of Housing & Community Development's efforts, led by Susan Kunz and Harry Yada, in increasing the affordable housing pipeline from 1,200 to over 6,100 homes. Over 300 units have been completed with 660 more slated for local, working-class families this year.
   Regarding building permits, the Mayor said permitting time for single-family homes has ben reduced to an average of 42 days from 200 days. He said the time could be reduced again by one third through legislative changes and also credited Building chief Julann Sonomura. He also pointed to new county legislation to allow Accessory Dwelling Units on existing parcel to alleviate housing shortage and the effort to encourage more vacation rental owners to rent long term.
   Regarding homelessness, the Mayor said a comprehensive approach has been taken by his administration, resulting in capacity building of service providers and increasing affordable housing. He pointed to $19 million provided to programs and organizations addressing homelessness, plus completion of the first phase of the Kūkuiola Emergency Shelter and Assessment Center, with the second phase set to add 48 affordable permanent housing units.
Keiki singing at the State of the County address on
Friday. Photo by Cyrus Johnasen
    Regarding parks and recreation, Roth discussed his commitment to enforcing parks' rules for the safety of all park-goers. He highlighted major park projects, including playground and field upgrades, new community centers, and emergency swimming pool repairs. The county pool at Pahala is currently under repair.
    Regarding public safety, the Mayor pointed to investments, including a new joint dispatch center and fleet upgrades with new helicopter, brush trucks fire engines, tankers and ambulances, aiming to improve emergency response and coordination between police and fire departments. He emphasized pedestrian safety enhancements. He vowed to fill police vacancies "with plans to expand police services and reduce response times."
     Regarding infrastructure improvements, the Mayor pointed to improving the water system and conducting islandwide inventory of water laterals for clean drinking water. He also noted the Connect Kakou Initiative, a partnership with Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke to expand broadband and digital literacy, providing high-speed intenet to 40 county-managed facilities, plus free wireless access. He pointed to numerous road pavings, bridge repairs and wastewater system redesigns, including those for Nāʻālehu and Pāhala.   
    Regarding cost of living, the Mayor said he and his administration are committed to ease the financial burden on residents, including a potential decrease in property tax rates for homeowners, "reflecting a commitment to ensuring a more equitable future for all residents of Hawaiʻi Island," said the statement from his office.

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CANDIDATE FOR MAYOR JR. TUPAI comes to Discovery Harbour Center at 6 p.m. on Saturday, March 23 and the public is invited. His topic is Community Development and Growth: Fostering a Thriving Local Community. The address is 94-1604 Makali'i St.

Kaʻū News Briefs March 21, 2024

Vacation rentals like this one in Volcano could become unavailable should passage of a state law allowing
counties to phase them out becomes successful. Photo from Love Big Island
A BILL THAT COULD LEAD TO A BAN ON VACATION RENTALS IN ALL BUT RESORT and some commercial-zoned places is gaining momentum in the state House of Representatives. Attorney Sherry Broder, known for working on causes that support local initiatives, submitted testimony "strongly opposing" SB2919, which would allow counties to phase out vacation rentals, with the aim of the units becoming long term housing.
   Her testimony contends that instead of vacation rentals, building more hotels is is one of the problems of affordable housing. Broder writes that "The counties keep approving more hotel rooms, more tourists keep coming, and then many tourists want to have a home in Hawai'i." She points to the Punalu'u development proposal here, the proposed Coco Palms and Koloa/Po'ipu units on Kaua'i, and a new hotel planned in Wailea on Maui. On O'ahu, she notes plans for several large hotel projects and numerous smaller ones. She objects to the argument that a vacation rental ban will solve the affordable housing problem.
Hawai'i Hotel Alliance supports the ban
on vacation rentals.
    Broder claims that the bill to ban vacation rentals "is great for the lucrative hotel industry and bad for local people who have the opportunity to access a very small portion of the tourism dollars through short term rentals (STRs)." She notes that Planning Directors around the state are recommending "approvals or more hotel rooms, more expensive housing for non-locals and more golf courses." She writes that "The super wealthy and international corporations receive the tourism dollars in Hawai'i. Private equity companies own almost 30% of Hawai‘i’s hotel rooms." She says Hawai'i continues to be attractive for private equity buyers because it’s one of the highest performing hotel markets in the country. "Local people do not share in the real tourism dollars because of the high barrier to entry," says Broder. "All local people bear the burden of tourism. It is unfair that only hotels can make money from tourism. Today the hotels are mostly owned by hedge funds and multinational corporations. For the most part, local people earn low wages at the hotels."
    Broder contends that short-term rentals bring positive economic benefits to local people and to county governments.
    "Many STRs are owned by local people who do not have access to the capital needed to build a hotel
American Hotel & Lodging Association supports
ban on vacation rentals.
and local people should be supported in their efforts to engage in making money from the tourists. The STR market provides new income channels for State and county governments. Prohibiting STRs will contribute to the continuing decline of economic opportunities for local people.
    "Many local people seek to stay at STRs as most often they are a more affordable option.
    "Short term rentals bring tax dollars to the state and local governments," writes Broder.
    She writes that building affordable housing is difficult because: Land ownership is concentrated in a very few landowners in Hawai'i which drives up the price of land. The cost of materials is very high because of the shipping costs and the competition for materials.
    "Hawai'i is like the national trend of the rise in economic inequality making it harder for lower-income
Hotel workers union supports
ban on vacation rentals.
households to buy secure housing. The PEW Foundation reports that the rise in economic inequality in the U.S. is tied to several factors. These include in no particular order, technological change, globalization, the decline of unions and the eroding value of the minimum wage. Whatever the causes, there has been an uninterrupted increase in inequality in wealth since 1980. A greater share of the nation’s aggregate income is now going to upper-income households and the share going to middle- and lower-income households is falling. See https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2020/01/09/trends-in-income-and-wealth-inequality/. This bill perpetuates this economic inequality by prohibiting ordinary local people from participating in the lucrative tourism market," concludes Broder.
    The Senate Committee on Commerce, Consumer Protection, Energy, Economic Development, Tourism & Public Safety reported that "short-term rentals can be disruptive, not only to Hawai'i's traditional and economically essential lodging industries, but to the character and fabric of local residential neighborhoods. Further, while short-term
Rental by Owner Awareness Association opposes
ban on vacation rentals.

rentals may not be legally inconsistent with the land uses that they are intended for, they must be regulated properly so that users of short-term rentals and communities alike can mutually benefit from these transactions.           Therefore, this measure establishes a comprehensive regulatory scheme for short-term rentals of dwelling units and expands the zoning powers of counties to phase out future nonconforming uses over time, in order to promote the orderly development of each county and ensure the greatest benefit for the State as a whole."
Expedia Opposes Ban on vacation rentals.
    Testimony supporting the bill to allow the phase out of vacation rentals came from such organizations as Hawaiʻi Hotel Alliance, The American Hotel & Lodging Association, Hawaiʻi State Association of Counties, Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi, Lahaina Strong, Housing Hawaiʻi's Future, UNITE HERE Local 5, International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 142, one member of the Honolulu City Council, two members of the Maui County Council, and more than 290 individuals.
    Testimony opposing the bill came from Hawaiʻi Association of REALTORS, Airbnb, Rental By Owner Awareness Association, Expedia Group, and more than 120 individuals.
    See all the testimony and follow the progress of the bill at https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/session/measure_indiv.aspx?billtype=SB&billnumber=2919&year=2024

To read comments, add your own, and like this story, see facebook.com/kaucalendar. See upcoming events, print edition and archive at kaunews.com. See 7,500 copies the mail and on stands.

USGS VOLCANO EXPERTS HELP EQUATORIAL GUINEA TO FORECAST ERUPTIONS. Establishing a Nascent Monitoring Program on Pico Basile Volcano, Equatorial Guinea is the title of the latest Volcano Watch, the weekly article and activity update written by U.S. Geological Survey 
Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientists and affiliates:
    In 2012, steam began to rise from beneath the cracked concrete of a telecommunication station at the summit of Pico Basile volcano on Bioko Island, Equatorial Guinea, in western Africa. The steaming lasted several days and extended to two nearby summit craters.

Color photograph of volcano
Pico Basile volcano, located on Bioko Island in Equatorial Guinea in western Africa. USGS photo
    Pico Basile is a shield volcano located at the center of the enigmatic Cameroon Volcanic Line (CVL) in western Africa. Like the volcanoes in Hawai'i, it features basalt lava flows, scoria cones, and tuff rings. Pico Basile is the second-most active volcano on the CVL, after Mount Cameroon, which is 65 km (40 mi) to the northeast on the African continent. The most recent series of recorded eruptions on Pico Basile took place from the 1890s to 1923. These eruptions impacted population centers on the South and East flanks of the volcano. Malabo, the capital city of Equatorial Guinea with a population of approximately 300,000 people, is located on its northern flank.
    Potential eruption hazards from Pico Basile are similar to those in Hawai'i and include earthquakes, lava flows, ballistic projectiles, and volcanic gases including sulfur dioxide (SO2). Even in its current quiescent state, hazards on Pico Basile include carbon dioxide (CO2) accumulation, landslides, and wildfires.
    Since 2017, international researchers had been working to assess the state of activity at Pico Basile and piece together its eruptive history. The 2021 disaster on La Palma, Spain, where Cumbre Vieja erupted after 50 years of quiescence destroying over 3,000 buildings and displacing over 7,000 people, highlighted the importance of monitoring quiescent volcanoes. Following that eruption, it became apparent that foreign research was not enough; the people of Equatorial Guinea needed the ability to monitor their volcanoes from within their own country.
    In 2023, the National University of Equatorial Guinea (UNGE) partnered with a Research Corporation of the University of Hawai'i affiliate staff member of the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory through the Fulbright Specialist Program. With support from the U.S. Agency for International Development–USGS Volcano Disaster Assistance Program (USAID-USGS VDAP), they created the first volcano monitoring program in Equatorial Guinea for Pico Basile volcano.
Color photograph of volcano scientists with volcano monitoring equipment
UNGE team with a newly installed seismic station. Also pictured is Dr. Christine Sealing (Fulbright Specialist), top row second from left, and Aaron Rinehart (USAID-USGS VDAP) bottom row second from right. USGS photo
    The backbone of the new volcano monitoring program is a team of eight UNGE staff and two students who participated in a month-long workshop where they gained a broad understanding of volcanology and volcanic hazards, including the history and hazards specific to Pico Basile. They also learned essential field engineering techniques and installed four broadband seismic stations around the volcano to detect earthquakes. Using data from previous research stations, the UNGE team received training in seismic analysis and learned to recognize signs of volcano seismic unrest. Although in its infancy, the new monitoring program has already served as an important source of information by reassuring officials that recent remote wildfires on Pico Basile were not caused by volcanic activity.
    Collaborative assistance programs such as the Fulbright Specialist Program and USAID-USGS VDAP are integral in building technical capacity and diplomatic relationships overseas through education and science. These programs work by invitation such that host countries and institutions lead the collaboration, cultivating trust and goodwill between all partners.
    The Fulbright Program is an international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government for the purpose of fostering enduring connections between U.S. Americans and people from other countries around the world. The mission of USAID-USGS VDAP, funded through an interagency agreement with the Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance within USAID, is to mitigate volcanic risk overseas by assisting scientists with volcano monitoring, hazards assessments, and eruption forecasting. At Pico Basile, this collaboration between the UNGE, the USAID-USGS VDAP, and U.S. scientists through the Fulbright Specialist Program has culminated in the first volcano-monitoring program in Equatorial Guinea and hopefully the beginning of lasting scientific relationships.
    Volcano Activity Updates: Kīlauea is not erupting. Its USGS Volcano Alert level is ADVISORY.Low levels of disbursed seismicity continue at Kīlauea's summit and along the Koa'e fault system southwest of the caldera. Earthquake counts in this region increased slightly over the past two weeks but remain well
below those detected during the January–February intrusion or prior to recent summit eruptions. Tiltmeters near Sand Hill and Uēkahuna bluff have continued to record modest inflationary trends over the past week. No unusual activity has been noted along the rift zones.
    Mauna Loa is not erupting. Its USGS Volcano Alert Level is at NORMAL.
    Webcams show no signs of activity on Mauna Loa. Summit seismicity has remained at low levels over the past month. Ground deformation indicates continuing slow inflation as magma replenishes the reservoir system following the 2022 eruption. SO2 emission rates are at background levels.
    Five earthquakes were reported felt in the Hawaiian Islands during the past week: a M2.9 earthquake 3 km (1 mi) NNW of Kukuihaele at 13 km (8 mi) depth on March 20 at 6:18 p.m. HST, a M3.0 earthquake 10 km (6 mi) ENE of Pāhala at 32 km (20 mi) depth on March 19 at 9:38 p.m. HST, a M3.2 earthquake 3 km (1 mi) S of Pāhala at 32 km (19 mi) depth on March 15 at 8:37 p.m. HST, a M3.3 earthquake 4 km (2 mi) SSW of Pāhala at 31 km (19 mi) depth on March 15 at 8:11 p.m. HST, and a M2.0 earthquake 14 km (8 mi) NE of Pāhala at 4 km (2 mi) depth on March 15 at 7:01 a.m. HST.
   Email questions to askHVO@usgs.gov.

To read comments, add your own, and like this story, see facebook.com/kaucalendar. See upcoming events, print edition and archive at kaunews.com. See 7,500 copies the mail and on stands.