The push to keep the North Shore country has lost one of its chief advocates.

In a surprising upset, Rep. Gil Riviere, known for his support of environmental measures, narrowly lost the Republican primary to rival Richard Fale, who backs North Shore development plans.

Fale will now face Democratic challenger, Danielle Ululani Beirne, for the House District 67 seat in the Nov. 6 general election.

And this has North Shore environmental groups and some residents concerned.

“It’s devastating,” said Haleiwa resident, Alan Lennard, of Riviere’s loss. “It’s going to be the lesser of two evils. Fale is the greater of two evils.”

Lennard, like other Riviere supporters, said he usually voted Democratic but crossed party lines for the candidate that has been a big supporter of environmental issues.

In a peculiarity of Hawaii politics, Republicans have a track record of championing environmental causes in the Legislature, recently putting Democrats on the defensive for attempts to limit environmental controls that they say are stunting development and job creation.

Riviere, who won the House seat in 2010, led the successful court challenge that forced Turtle Bay developers to revise an environmental impact statement that was done 25 years ago as part of major expansion plans. The case, which went all the way to the Hawaii Supreme Court, has delayed the resort’s development plans for at least five years.

A revised EIS is expected to be completed in about a month, said Drew Stotesbury, a spokesman for Turtle Bay.

The 443-room hotel, which dwarfs the size of any other accommodation on the North Shore, sits on 858 acres of land and hasn’t been expanded since 1972. The current owners of the hotel hope to add 1,375 new hotel rooms and residences and five parks along a largely untouched coastline.

Riviere also emerged this past legislative session as a major opponent of Senate Bill 755, which would have given the governor and county mayors significant leeway in exempting state and county projects from environmental review. The legislation was supported by Gov. Neil Abercrombie, majority Democrats and the construction industry. But it enraged many environmental groups, including the Hawaii Sierra Club, and was opposed by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

Mufi Takes ‘Em Down

Riviere attributed his loss to what he described as an anti-Mufi Hannemann sentiment that pervaded this election session. He said many of his supporters were more interested in voting against Hannemann on the Democratic ballot, and under Hawaii’s primary system, that meant they could not vote a Republican ballot in other races.

“I’m collateral damage of Tulsi wiping out Mufi,” he said.

Hannemann, 58, and a veteran politician, lost the Hawaii Second Congressional District race to Tulsi Gabbard, the 31-year old political newcomer by 20 points.

Choon James, a member of the Koolauloa Sustainable Communities Committee and Save Oahu Farmlands Coalition, agreed. 

“I feel that the passion against Hannemann is so strong in a lot of people, if push comes to shove, they would rather vote for Tulsi to bring Hannemann down because they see Mufi as a much greater threat to the environment.”

She pointed out Hannemann’s support for the Turtle Bay expansion.

“When we were asking for the EIS to be supplemented because it was already 20 years old, he fought us tooth and nail against it,” she said.

Kevin Kelly, who is on the board of the Defend Oahu Coalition, a group of community residents that opposes Turtle Bay’s expansion plans and large-scale development, helped Riviere on his campaign. He said that Riviere also lost because of Fale’s support from the Mormon community of Laie. Fale is Mormon.

“I think the church did a great job of getting the vote out,” he said. Kelly also usually votes Democratic, but said he supported Riviere because of his environmental platform.

Riviere lost by less than 80 votes.

Development Plans Get Champion

North Shore residents who have fought vigorously against large-scale development, now say they are faced with two candidates who lack a track record when it comes to development.

Little is known about Beirne’s record, they say. The candidate did not return a call from Civil Beat for comment.

But when it comes to relaxing environmental regulations, she told Civil Beat in a written candidate questionnaire:

I believe that all development need to follow the process, even for government agencies, however, if an emergency occurs as a school burns down and needs to be rebuilt, consideration based on needs can be evaluated. Even “sensible development” need to be evaluated.

Fale, on the other hand, has been very vocal about his support for Envision Laie and with his views about environmental groups that oppose development.

“This is the problem,” he told Civil Beat. “Nobody is looking out for the people in the community. Nobody is asking how our kids are doing. Nobody is asking how our community is doing. The wealthy people with beachfront properties want nobody to mess with them. There’s high suicide rates and nobody gives a damn.”

He said it was important to build affordable housing and create jobs so that people who grew up on the North Shore could stay there.

“People are what’s important,” he said. “People are who need to be taken care of.”

Kelly agreed that there was a problem with locals not being able to afford to live on the North Shore, but said that the Laie Development and Turtle Bay expansion weren’t the ways to do it.

“To me, the whole Envision Laie thing is misguided,” he said. “It really doesn’t address the economic development goals of the North Shore.”

He noted that affordable housing development had been approved in Laie for two decades, but had yet to be built.

Fale was non-committal when it came to Turtle Bay’s plans, however.

“My concerns with Turtle Bay is that the place has changed so many times,” he said. “The owners today may not be the owners tomorrow. So they may not have the long-term interest of the community in mind. The owners now, I’m not even sure who the owners are.”

The resort has been owned by a group of international investment management firms since 2010.

Riviere’s loss was a disappointment to many in the community who have opposed Turtle Bay, said Kent Fonoimoana, co-chair of the Defend Oahu Coalition. He too is a Democrat.

“It definitely puts us at a disadvantage,” he said. “The candidates left to choose from are in favor of some form of development.”

Riviere, who is president of the Keep the North Shore Country, a non-profit focused on preserving the rural character of the region, said that while he lost the election he would still remain involved in land-use issues.

“I’m not going to disappear, I will still be around,” he said.

Meanwhile, Fale said he would continue to fight for the needs of the people.

“I don’t talk about keeping the country country,” he said. “I talk about keeping the country for the country people.”

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