By ERIN MILLER
Stephens Media Hawaii
Three of Hawaii’s four Congressional delegates landed in West Hawaii Thursday afternoon to meet with fellow Democratic Party members on Independence Day.
All three listed the ongoing debate over a proposed federal critical habitat designation here as one of the top issues they’re working on for West Hawaii residents.
“We believe there needs to be a process whereby all participants discuss how to make this work,” Sen. Brian Schatz said, adding he believes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can strike a balance between protecting endangered and threatened plants and allowing already planned development to proceed.
The habitat area — nearly 19,000 acres owned by the state, the county, Kamehameha Schools, the Queen Liliuokalani Trust, the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and numerous private landholders — would get some restrictions placed on it under the proposal. About half of the land is already a critical habitat for some species. Fish and Wildlife Service officials said the designation doesn’t preclude development, but landowners, during public meetings earlier this year, said they felt they weren’t getting straight answers or enough information from federal sources about the proposal.
Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, the delegate for the state’s 1st Congressional District, urban Oahu, said her position on the Natural Resources Committee, a working relationship with Fish and Wildlife Director Dan Ashe and her experience with the critical habitat designation process on Oahu all are helping her help West Hawaii. Hanabusa and Schatz both called for the comment period to be reopened to allow more public input on the habitat designation.
The Fish and Wildlife Service did just that on Monday, allowing for comments through Sept. 3. Hanabusa said another public meeting is planned.
“People need to be able reach out and determine what are the rules,” Hanabusa said. “And you need to have a discussion.”
Many of the parties whose land would be affected don’t feel they are getting that discussion, she said. Hanabusa said she is also investigating whether DHHL property should or could be treated the same way as tribal land in other parts of the country.
As a former state senator, Hanabusa said she is also familiar with the concerns regarding any delays the habitat designation could have on the proposed Kona Judiciary Complex.
“It doesn’t stop the development, but funding gets affected, timing gets affected,” she said.
Schatz said the delegation is also working together on another project, securing funding for the remainder of the Saddle Road project, to extend the road to Queen Kaahumanu Highway.
“The project appears to be on track,” he said.
Worries about the economy and jobs are a continuing theme Rep. Tulsi Gabbard hears from West Hawaii residents, she said.
More than 300 people attended the picnic and party rally at the Makaeo Events Pavilion at the Old Kona Airport Park. Attendees ranged in age from small babies to 107-year-old Puna resident Saramae Landers. Landers’ daughter, Sara Burgess, brought her to the rally.
Landers, who was born in 1904, has voted in every election since she was eligible, Burgess said.
“Her father was a very prominent politician in Idaho,” Burgess said.
Landers, as a small child, would memorize poetry and recite it at Democratic Party rallies, serving as an opening act for her father.
Landers offered a simple explanation for her spotless voting record.
“If you don’t vote, you can’t complain,” she said.
Email Erin Miller at email@example.com.