Politics — A Look At Council District 1: Hamakua, North Hilo

By Alan McNarie

Incumbent Valerie Poindexter of O`okala squares off against Hiloite Larry Gering.

Valerie Poindexter says major issues in her district include substandard roads, ocean access and the future of the Hamakua Ditch.

Hamakua inherited a plethora of aging roads: both the decrepit fragments of Old Mamalahoa Highway, still beloved by tourists as scenic routes, and the old network of plantation roads. Poindexter notes that of over a hundred miles of “roads in limbo” in the count—roads that are technically public but not claimed or maintained—over half are in her district.  Fixing them, she says, are a matter of “just finding funding.”

Another hot-button issue, as former plantation communities deal with new landowners, is “access to the ocean in several areas along our coastline,” she says. “My goal in my next term, if I’m successful, is to have an easement for Paipaikou beach access well on its way.”

The Hamakua Ditch—another plantation legacy, a man-made open ditch that brings water from the Kohala Mountains to area farmers, has been the recent subject of heated exchanges from the State Department of Agriculture, which wants to enclose some sections of the ditch in plastic piping, and community members who want to keep it open, citing its historic value, its use to wildlife such as the koloa (Hawaiian duck) and its role as an emergency water source.

“The people want an open ditch system and I’m agreeing with them at this point,” says Poindexter.

Island-wide, one of the biggest issues that she sees is the county’s ongoing solid waste crisis. Poindexter worries that if the county doesn’t find a solution to its over-crammed Hilo landfill soon, it could get bankrupted by fines from the EPA.  But she doesn’t think that the county necessarily has to choose between a zero-waste strategy that includes recycling and Mayor Kenoi’s plan to build a waste-to-energy incinerator.

“There’s no doubt that there’s still going to be composting and recycling. We’re not going to stop that. In fact, I’m looking at supporting increasing our efforts at that. Waste-to-energy is a possibility, she says, but “We need to look at what the proposals are. We don’t know what’s coming before us….“

She takes a broad approach to energy independence, but it has a bottom line: “I definitely support all the different types of energy resources that we’ve been looking at. Whatever resources that will bring us to a place where we can reduce our energy costs.  Our electrical costs are the highest in the nation, and yet we’re an island that has an abundance of energy resources. We need to start moving on that.

On food, she again draws on her district’s plantation roots to find solutions for the future:  In the plantation camps, she notes, “we didn’t have much land.  We had our gardens, we had our chickens and we survived.” Now, she believes “Each councilmember should be working with his own community” to rebuild those farms and gardens: “I think small farming and backyard farming and community farming is the way to go. If a disaster would happen on the mainland and stop the boats from coming, we’d be in trouble.”

One of the biggest issues in District 1, believes Larry Gering, is “voter apathy.”

“As important as these issues are, why aren’t these people turning out?” he asks.

A specific problem, he believes is big landowners such as Kamehameha Schools blocking shoreline access in contradiction to the state Constitution. Kam Schools is part of the problem with the beach access. They control a lot of that land.  They’re not above the law—they can get out of the way or we can take them to court…the landowners, including Kam Schools, need Hawaii far more than Hawaii needs obstructionists.

The biggest issue that Hawaii County faces, in Larry Gering’s eyes, is that “the anti-business mentality of politicians restricts many facets of health, wealth, creativity, education, and well-being. Fees need to be reduced to inspire growth. Pols need ag business education and I can fill that need.” Gering is pro-geothermal, pro-GMO, pro-waste-to-energy, pro private prison (“if it is privately financed”) pro-tax reduction, generally anti-regulation and pro-bottom line. Asked about expanding geothermal, for instance, he replies, “Yes—it is available but NO long-term contracts as this reduces the ability to slap the suppliers hands’ when they screw up. Slap the suppliers in their bank account which wakes everybody up…fines for screwups.” He discounts allegations about health problems connected to both geothermal and GMOs.  “Illnesses attributed to geothermal can be caused by a persons’ DNA but nobody ever talks about their DNA….getting older can cause many health issues also but it is easier to blame the geothermal/GMO…. “Thru [sic] all of the testimony about GMO vs organic, no proof was ever offered or presented, signed by a doctor, that GMO ever, ever was harmful or that organic offered more nutrition in spite of its’ higher cost….”

He supports exporting biofuels as an export crop: they “would be another source of income for farmers who would be “shut out” by the anti-GMO legislation passed by the current lame county council. So, yes. If organic produce can be shipped off-island, why not biofuels?” But he opposes a cable to export power to O`ahu: “the pols consider the outer islands to be the ‘ugly step sisters’ so let them dig their own grave.”  And he has little good to say about HELCO: “Slap the greedy hands of HELCO officials who continue to financially rape customers and are sleeping with the PUC….”

To bring more jobs closer to affordable homes, he would “create more tourist amenities on the East side; build resorts and promote them; improve the airport for tourists; improve the cruise ship ports (which are UGLY). Hire a tourist administrator who is “not in love” with West Hawaii. Put some good sand on the beach of Hilo Bay for the tourists to lay on, install food kiosks and let the locals have more employment. Build a small convention center and promote small conventions with the airlines’ participation.”  To house the homeless, he would build a “homeless city” , run by homeless, maintained by homeless,

managed by the county, with groceries, meds., everyday items-of-need.”


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