Kauai Chapter

Felicia Cowden

  1. Develop and implement a Climate Action Plan for Kaua`i which 1) addresses reduction of greenhouse gases, 2) directs land use and development, and 3) prepares us to respond to extreme weather conditions and sea level rise.


Kaua’i is a little more than a dot on the surface of a globe. While we must be responsible to do our part in terms of stopping our contribution to the global problem, far more importantly we need to be self-reliant and resilient to the impacts of what may be happening elsewhere. Our collective contribution to the global problem is minimal, but our potential vulnerability in an extension of the threat is profound. Our role in the global economy is largely as the luxury item of a beautiful location rather a centrally important contributor of a necessary export or port. If or when the world is on fire, other places cannot or will not place resource priorities on us, and it is selfish of us to expect them to do so.  Currently, that is our Plan A: Outside Help.  So where do we begin?

A competent and capable population is Kauai’s legacy. We need to reclaim that. As the most isolated people on the planet, Hawaii had a resilient culture that farmed, fished and lived in a manner that enhanced nature rather than depleted the environment. The people were very connected to the land rather than isolated from it. We have a win-win in the present if our policies respect and honor these necessary skill sets rather than criminalize best lifestyle practices as we do at present.  We need to keep our young and emerging generations connected to the land rather than providing the main option for them to be stacked in apartment buildings in Lihue. Beach and mountain access for responsible hunting and the traditional fish farming that occurred in the oceans needs prioritization. The wild pigs and goats do significant damage to the watershed. Hunters have an important role. Perpetuating the strengths of the Hawaiian culture and promoting the opportunities to practice traditional stewardship of the lands, prioritizing Dept. of Hawaiian Homelands use for our people with restructuring how those lands can be available for living is a key step.

The reduction of our greenhouse gases begins with lowered consumption. Living simply so that others can simply live is an important starting point. The modern international cultural messaging centers on commerce as the lifeblood of any economy; Kauai included. Being inconvenience seemingly has been one of the deepest American fears. Youthful focus is already beginning to shift our desires from “what we must have” to “what we can do.” Media can amplify that message so the older generations can catch up.  Having complete communities across the regions is a more strategic plan than centralizing so many services toward Lihue. There was less driving when we had small businesses and government support services like courthouses in the regions. The Kauai General Plan Update does allow for mixed use residential and light commercial in town cores. Less driving, less consumption, smaller houses and repaired natural watersheds is a beginning toward lowering our greenhouse gases. Renewable energy is a goal in which KIUC is having success and our continuing in that pathway is important. Bringing the community into actively being a part of our holistic planning can be promoted with educational and entertaining media to raise awareness and involvement. The guiding principles need to be holistic with inclusion and understanding of the people. The proposed water-storage battery is an example of a plan that needs community assessment and engagement.

Land Use and Development approval are key in designing a resilient community. Having recently attended the state Hazard Mitigation presentation, the financial impacts of sea level inundation are under estimated by their own admission and the level of preparedness needs improvement. There is great vulnerability in the coastal towns such as Kekaha, Kapaa, Hanalei, Hanapepe, Po’ipu, among others. To finance these adjustments is almost impossible on our budget. There is wisdom in looking at how other island communities handle extreme weather events that do not have the benefit of FEMA and can’t rely on external support. Our building codes for each and every house are so strong that we are 25% housing insecure due to costs, leaving so many people outside any safe zone. The mindset in American Hawaii places the burdens of resilience on individuals in contrast to the Pacific island communities that approach these challenges as a collective. Their villages and housing have a proportionate amount of hardened buildings that provide the needed safety in a storm while allowing smaller, less substantial buildings for living in the time frames between high-impact storms. It is more feasible to build a series of light housing that are appropriate for the years in between the risked storm than to have every family build a weather fortress. In a time of real crisis, this is how we would shift our of necessity. At present, many large ohanas, farmers and collections of people are living this way illegally, because that is what makes sense and is the only way people can manage. We need to create a legal pathway for this structure of living. 

We are vulnerable to extreme weather conditions and sea level rise with most of our development ringing the coast of the island. Many of our roads leave us in the danger zone of tidal waves and extreme tides. North of Kapaa, we are highly dependent on one road as the only route between communities. Traffic is a problem on an ordinary day in peak times. It could be tragic in extreme weather. Paving old cane roads that can create more of a pathway “inward and upward” is a reasonable choice. There is a ford over the river above Wailua falls that can create a high pathway for travel from Wailua Homesteads to the Lihue side of the river. The two bridges at Lydgate could wash out and we need an alternate possibility in the event of such occurrence. In general, we need to place more of our future growth on higher ground, especially essential services. It is foolish to build heavy concrete mansions on sand or saturated narrow slopes, as we have recently demonstrated in Hanalei and Wainiha. Common sense regarding building on wetlands and estuaries needs to be reflected in our shoreline setback laws and permitting practices. Filling in the wetlands for building shifts the flood burden to what was previously a safer area. Our waste water systems are inadequate. A septic system at sea level or in a wetland is not much of a solution. While the concept of composting toilets is difficult for most of us to consider, that technology is wise to explore. 

This is a complex question. The above statements are some examples of strategies that bring us toward resilience for a difficult future but also make sense for the present. Any of these ideas would not harm the present.


  1. Ban the sale and use of disposable polystyrene “Styrofoam” food service ware and containers countywide. Ban the sale of single use plastic water bottles at all county facilities and events.


Eliminating the sale and use of disposable polystyrene “Styrofoam” food service ware and containers countywide is a measure I would support. There are other more bio-degradable options easily available enough. 

Banning the sale of single use plastic water bottles at all county facilities and events seems like it misses the mark. Choosing a policy to use 5 gallon reusable water dispensers at county facilities and events is a better policy. The mindset that singles out and punishes plastic water bottles then would encourage the less healthy provision of plastic soda bottles, etc. It is not the water that is guilty, it is the container. If we don’t want plastic containers, than treat them equally. 


  1. Commit to increasing sustainable local food production by specifically budgeting a larger percentage of County grants for food-based agricultural projects, and reinstating the County Ag Specialist position.                              


Reinstating the County Ag Specialist position is important to help guide and ensure that our agriculture policies are being observed and supported. Grants for food-based agriculture are also good. 

Far more important to effective food production are our zoning policies that could truly support diversified farming. It is hard to have economically feasible food farming on million dollar properties. Hamlets of food production will happen when we allow for Community Ohana Housing in which there is at least one appropriately sized structure on an agriculture property that is in compliance with safety and sewage standards but can be surrounded by small, inexpensive, private living quarters for the handful(s) of people needed to care-take that farm project. It is possible. A good number of those people might have outside jobs.  The farm itself may need an additional commercial stream of income, perhaps 30%. If our goal is truly local food, we should be measuring success in pounds of food produced and delivered rather than in GET reported dollars. Not all food is “sold.” Some of it is simply eaten or shared. Some of it is unexpressed potential that falls to the ground and recycles into the environment. The “90% of imported food” is measured upon GET payments and is less-than-accurate. 

Increased sustainable local food production will also happen when we encourage neighborhood edible landscaping, as had been the norm forty years ago and earlier. Food can grow abundantly all over the place if it is encouraged.

Agriculture subdivisions turn into gentleman estates because they are not held accountable to the intention of the farming. Allowing an additional dwelling that supports a required amount of food production measured in pounds for ag parcels would create farming opportunities. It is not feasible to expect one-to-five million dollar properties to grow enough carrots and lettuce to justify the cost of the land. However, they can support a farming opportunity on their land for a collaborator. This happens all over the northeast currently. This is a natural partnership that should be encouraged rather than punished. 


  1. Implement a temporary moratorium on new zoning entitlements, with the exception of affordable housing that is within or adjacent to existing urban areas, until infrastructure needs are met.


Growth management is clearly needed such that we can take a short break for a holistic look for how to adapt our exhausted and vulnerable infrastructure before moving ahead with fresh builds. In interpreting this question as it emphasizes “new zoning entitlements”, the R40 density change from R20 on the 70 acres in Lihue would be a prime example as there is not the appropriate water or sewage to manage the potential of this change which has been created in haste with very little media coverage or community input. Sewage is becoming a critical issue in many communities and water has been the limiting factor for some time in places such as Kilauea. The challenge becomes in what is determined as “new zoning” and the length of time for the moratorium. As  we stop the building of housing, we increase the cost of any house even “affordable” ones. Reclaiming the ability to use grey-water may be a way to stretch our water availability. 

My vision for affordable housing is for immediate adaptations of existing structures that should have relatively low increase in density. This question is not intending a strong look at Affordable Housing options, but I am currently working with the department of housing for implementation parameters for adapting existing structures to appropriate standard for more housing. We will bring this to council in this administrative session to hopefully garner support. 


  1. Develop and implement a comprehensive, integrated solid waste management plan with a major focus on maximizing diversion through recycling and composting.


Yes, a solid waste plan diverting the refuse that can be recycled or composted is highly important, AND point source reduction is even more important. We need to discourage the creation of the garbage in the first place. Important partnerships working with business is critical. The Chamber of Commerce, the Carpenters’ Union, regional business organizations, non-profit receivers and general media outreach is a valuable step that strikingly has not yet occurred. There is an incredible generation of unnecessary of single-use plastic packaging particularly associated with the big box stores. A partnership campaign may have businesses quickly evaluating the amount of waste they create. My style will always begin with a positive ask for performance improvement in an identified area. If a business is indifferent to improvement, more revealing community education follows, then regulation or fines follow. The carrot is better than the stick, as enforcement is expensive and often arbitrary.  If there is resistance to improvement, community challenges with social media participation can constructively force the change. An example is a picture of a shopping cart filled with a purchase, followed by a same shopping cart filled with the resulting packaging, to help both the consumer and the retailer face their impacts. China has stopped buying our rubbish. We need to stop buying the trash in the first place. A hard plastic case that keeps every apple from bumping against each other in a long journey, as compared to a bag that can crumple into a trivial handful is a simple example. As I write this response, I am in Portland looking at their community practices in which there are abundant examples of better strategies at reducing point-source rubbish ranging from how beer is purchased to recycling buildings and building supplies and so much more. It is a mindset change that can be instilled, just as we all eventually learned to wear our seatbelts. Awareness is key. People need to go to the land fill, see the images of trash leaving on the barge, see the warehouses overflowing with recyclables. Self-awareness and better practices can be taught with humor. Let’s change our behavior with joy. Stopping the problem before it starts is much easier than being the sorting location for irresponsible business and consumerism. Let’s buy food that grows here rather than needing to process expensive protective food packaging that travels thousands of miles to our dinner plates. In my eighteen years as a retailer, I was routinely dismayed at the unnecessary packaging and shipping waste that came with the products before they ever were presented on the sales floor. If I knew then what I know now, I would have pushed back much harder and most probably more effectively at changing the shipping arrangements with my suppliers instead of simply accepting their reasons. Again, YES, let’s sort the trash, but more importantly let’s not bring the trash here, not buy it and Free-Cycle a lot more of what is possible. 


  1. Support expanded community based water stewardship to restore and preserve natural and uncontaminated flow of Kauai’s streams, and insure responsible up-stream/down-stream land use and development.


Water stewardship was the central element of the Hawaiian people’s success at resilience. We need to reinstate as much of that wisdom as possible and then think responsibly about future generations and the health of our whole ecosystem. Modern society is centered around marketing convenience with a disconnection from our relationship to our environment. Every culture around the planet has had their own responsible practices in the past, but our small isolated islands required an extreme skill set that needs to be respected and perpetuated before that wisdom is completely lost. Hoarding (and dumping) diverted water is a redirection of development capacity from one ahupuaa (watershed) to another. While it would be reckless and punitive to simply turn the tap off from existing dependency, we need to stop creating more demand for redirected water. Our in-flow stream standards and holistic surface water management has been negligently managed as our recent flooding problems reveal. There are examples of needed stewardship from the mountain to sea almost all around the island. Sewage effluent injection wells are contaminating our water supplies. This is a complex problem without an easy pathway for change, but we must begin. 


  1. Establish a higher property tax bracket for operations doing any for-profit proprietary research on agricultural land.


My guess is this question is intended to target the seed companies to discourage the broad applications of Restricted Use Pesticides. I am in agreement that this practice most probably yields unintended consequences for their downwind and downstream neighbors that need to be stopped. Creating oblique regulations may also have unintended consequences.  My perspective is that the best laws directly state the goal and rational for the legislation. With agriculture we want to encourage land use that 1) feeds the community or 2) yields a commodity crop, with both uses implementing responsible land stewardship. Food production is barely a profitable operation. Commodity crops are important to maintaining open space and economic diversification.  We learned in the courts that the counties are going to be denied the opportunity to implement direct legislation to protect from the pesticides. What we can do is clarify if the RUP’s are drifting or not. Just as Surfrider Foundation has revealed the levels of bacterial count in our water ways, we can determine the RUP drift. I need to look at my records, but there exists a relatively easy to use piece of equipment by a qualified environmental chemist designed for the International Space Station that can incinerate the air, water, or soil samples to test for identified compounds. If the drift of these very specific chemicals is determined to be happening, laws are being broken according to the labels of the Restricted Use Pesticides, and we begin from there at making the changes. The first round of tests and equipment purchase will most likely be a public cost, but if impacts are established fees can be implemented. Without looking at the specific wording of this tax bracket change, questions can arise over how this could limit future potential crops. Hemp is finally becoming legal. It was once broadly grown in the southern United States and most probably would not be an easy bulk export crop from our remote islands. However, we may be able to create a viable crop for specialized products from Hawaii. That market development might require what could be called some research. Any new export crop would have some trial time before establishing viability for broad investment. Is that research? Restricted Use Pesticides can and are also being used on crops that are not proprietary research, so they will not be impacted. Well written laws should be fair and understandable.  I agree that we need to continue to be vigilant to have safe agricultural practices. We need laws that target that goal. Question #3 asks about having an Agriculture Specialist on the county administration. This management issue would fall under that position. Unsafe agriculture practices happen with general use pesticides, as well. There is evident use of herbicides along the water ways by agriculture, business and government that have far less training and oversight than implemented by the large companies. The issue of pesticides also needs a holistic and fair perspective to be effective.