Tuesday | October 17, 2017
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Kahele bills for aviation program, airport governing body fail

All three legacy bills signed by the late state Sen. Gil Kahele have died at the Legislature.

However, efforts to preserve land at Kapua Bay — an issue which was perhaps most near and dear to the Hilo Democrat’s heart — might still move forward.

The Senate passed a resolution this week requesting the state to engage in “earnest negotiations” with current landowners of the pristine makai acreage at Kapua Bay, and preserve it “for future generations.” The idea was originally proposed in Gil Kahele’s Senate Bill 3071, which was never scheduled a hearing in conference.

Gil Kahele, who hailed near the area, tried unsuccessfully for decades to preserve the Kapua lands. The bill was among three he signed in January, only hours before he died. His son, Kai Kahele, who was appointed earlier this year to fill the empty seat, worked for months to see the legacy bills through.

The Kapua bill breezed through the Senate, but later stalled in the House over issues including a half-million dollar appropriation to conduct due diligence, which the House felt was too high.

In what Kai Kahele called an unprecedented move, the Senate Committee on Water, Land and Agriculture held a hearing this week for a resolution pitching the same Kapua preservation plan but unlike the bill, “has no teeth.” The resolution cleared the committee on Wednesday and the full Senate on Thursday.

“There’s no funding, no mandate (in the resolution) it purely encourages the discussion of the (Department of Land and Natural Resources),” Kai Kahele said. “Resolution or no resolution, the DLNR was moving ahead, but the Senate really wanted to have something for Gil Kahele this year and would not accept the fact that we weren’t going to get anything.”

Kai Kahele said he believes the DLNR will “move pretty quickly” in reappraising the lands, last valued years ago at $13.9 million. The department then must meet with three current landowners to see if any are willing to sell. The state has multiple options, Kai Kahele said, including purchasing, a land swap, or even as a last resort, condemning the property if it’s deemed to be of cultural and archaeological significance.

Kai Kahele, who’s running for the seat in August, said if re-elected, he’d introduce a bill next year to actually acquire the land based on its reassessed value.

“Kapua lives to fight another day,” he said. “And I’m very appreciative my dad’s Senate colleagues supported the resolution. Really, you don’t have hearings on the last day of the Legislature. Conference is over, people are packing up, and here we’re having a hearing on Kapua. I almost feel like, even though the bill never passed, it became even more significant because yesterday it was the only thing talked about at the Capitol.”

Gil Kahele’s Senate Bill 3072 to establish a statewide airport governing body also died in conference. Kai Kahele said lawmakers had concerns over “technical things” which ultimately led to its demise, for example, whether the airport authority would have the ability to issue bonds. Traditionally, only the Legislature appropriates funding, which is then released by the governor.

Proponents of the bill, which included Hawaii’s largest employer, Hawaiian Airlines, hoped an authority would help modernize the state’s aging airports more quickly. Kai Kahele said he’d re-pitch the idea next year, if re-elected.

“The initial concept I think everyone liked,” he said. “But bringing those financial pieces to the table, sitting down with the (attorney general) and making sure everything was legal would be another challenge … I’m a pilot for Hawaiian, half my life is spent at the airport, I fly in and out of the Honolulu airport (often). I see the problems, we have an airport that has not kept up with the times. Hawaiian Airlines is rapidly expanding and there’s just not enough room at the airport to handle demand.”

Gil Kahele’s final legacy bill would have appropriated funding to help get a University of Hawaii at Hilo aviation program started. UH had issues with amendments and funding ultimately wasn’t need anyway, Kai Kahele said. Plans for the program are still moving forward, contingent on approval by the UH Board of Regents.

West Hawaii Today reporter Bret Yager contributed to this article.

Email Kirsten Johnson at kjohnson@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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