Kalahui Hawaii: Prominent Environmentalist Joins Government
A prominent Hawaiian environmental activist is about to be confirmed as Land Board Director with an important responsibility to protect environment and native flora and fauna, which have deep significance for the local communities.
Below is an article published by The Star Advertiser:
William Aila Jr. has been an environmentalist, a community activist and a native Hawaiian cultural practitioner.
But as interim director of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, Aila says he is aware he is moving from being an outsider to an insider and will be bound by certain restrictions.
"In terms of how it's going to impact me in my official capacity, we're going to follow the law. ... My job right here now as the appointed director is to implement the governor's policies," he said.
Pending state Senate confirmation, Aila is working as interim land director and Land Board chairman.
Aila, 52, who worked as the Waianae harbormaster for 24 years, said he will continue to comment on environmental issues that affect his community.
Republican state Sen. Sam Slom described Aila as a "forthright" person but feels he is going to face challenges since being an activist is different from being a government insider.
"He has a responsibility to follow the law rather than private interests," Slom said.
The department oversees 1.3 million acres of state land and 3 million acres of submerged ocean lands, and is the lead state agency in fighting invasive species and protecting watersheds and streams.
During the past 20 years, the general fund for state parks, forests and trails has effectively cut in half, and for boating and ocean recreation did not keep pace with inflation, according to a state report last year.
The department has proposed new rules to regulate dams after being criticized for failing to adequately oversee maintenance at Ka Loko Reservoir, where floodwaters from a breach killed seven people in 2006.
The department stands to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal funding for its state Historic Preservation Division if it continues to fail to meet national guidelines.
Former state Maui/ Lanai Islands Burial Council Chairwoman Dana Naone Hall said an unprecedented number of historic sites, including large concentrations of burial sites, were destroyed or compromised due to a combination of staff shortages and poor administration.
"William Aila will have his work cut out to restore the division so that it can once again fulfil its mission to protect and conserve significant historic properties for future generations," she said.
The department as well as other state, county and federal agencies continues to be criticized for doing too little to halt invasive species, including loud coqui frogs in East Hawaii, where tourism has suffered because of the nightly noise.
"It's terrible. It's just really terrible the way they let these frogs get out of control," said Sherri Carden, a Puna resident who sleeps with headphones to shut out the din.
"I've lost 70 percent of my business."
Along the Waianae coastline there are numerous sites that could be a source of worry for environmentalists and native Hawaiians such as Aila, whose family has lived there for generations.
Waianae residents have lived with a munitions storage facility at Lualualei, a power plant at Kahe Point, the city landfill at Waimanalo Gulch, a private construction landfill in Nanakuli and the military training facility at Makua.
Aila, who has a bachelor's degree in tropical agriculture and lives on Hawaiian Homestead land at Lualualei, has been outspoken about wanting the U.S. military to clean up nearshore waters and develop a plan to eventually clear ordnance in Makua Valley.
"We want to make sure that we clean up as much as we can for our children," he said on a cable program a few years ago.
"You have the naysayers that will say, 'Gee, it's so bad that you can never do anything with it.' But all you have to do is point to ... Europe, Japan -- all these other places that have had as many bombs fired on them -- and guess what, people are living, people are farming, people continue to exist in a site that has bombs and they deal with them as they find them."
He also criticized Gov. Linda Lingle and the state Legislature's rush to approve the Hawaii Superferry without an environmental impact statement -- an action later overturned by the Hawaii Supreme Court.
Aila said that if a Hawaii Superferry is proposed again, he wants it to provide an environmental impact statement and also to consult with communities, especially those on the neighbor islands.
Dr. Fred Dodge, whose Malama Makua group successfully filed a lawsuit against the Army to gain cultural and religious access to Makua, said Aila is community-oriented.
"He's a great guy. I think he's one of the most truthful people. He's not afraid to be frank, and it's gotten him in hot water, but it's always done with aloha," Dodge said. "He really has a good head on his shoulders."
Aila said he still feels U.S. District Judge David Ezra made the wrong decision in 2005, in ordering the return of burial artifacts to the Bishop Museum.
His group, Hui Malama i na Kupuna o Hawai'i Nei, has said the artifacts were plundered from alii burials at Kawaihae in 1905, and group members were trying to repatriate them under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.
The items were returned to the museum, and the contempt of court order was lifted without Aila serving any jail time.
Aila said he will be looking for ways to increase the department's special funds by expanding user fees, such as raising revenues by increasing the number of commercial and industrial leases on state lands.
He is considering imposing visitor parking fees at more state parks, particularly those with high traffic volume, and charging fees at state wildlife and forest areas.
He said even with revenues from special funds, he will still need general funds to support core activities, including law enforcement.
Aila said under the Abercrombie administration the department will be providing more state lands to expand energy production and sustainable agriculture.
He said to bring the state Historic Preservation Division into federal compliance, he plans to add several positions in the next two years.