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Editor’s Note: This is the second of two columns about the Hawaii County Council races playing out in volcano country. Part 1 looked at Council District 4.
The Big Island’s County Council District 5 stretches from the Keaau-Pahoa Road along the coast to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and up Volcano Highway to the edge of Volcano.
It has no major population center.
Much of it was cut up into subdivisions during the land boom of the 1960s and ’70s, but many of them remain sparsely populated. Lava flows have ravaged the coastal area in the past, and the uplands along Volcano Highway consist of flows, farms and rainforests, where neighbors are often far apart. It’s a place that favors nature lovers, individualists and loners.
So after incumbent Councilwoman Jennifer Ruggle’s abrupt withdrawal from the District 5 race, it’s not surprising that the two remaining candidates are political outsiders who are paying for their own campaigns that emphasize agriculture and sustainability.
Still, they have some very different views about how to address those priorities.
Frederic “Ric” Wirick is a former wildlands firefighter from Utah who now has a subsistence farm in the rural Orchidlands subdivision. The closest he’s come to public office was as the subdivision’s secretary. But he claims achievements in that role.
“Up until we stepped in, only a very small special interest group was being served,” he said. “Now everyone is being served.”
His big issue is food independence. Because he grows his own food, he says he is “more kamaaina” than others who have been here longer but buy their food.
“You become part of the island when you start growing and eating from the island,” he said.
About 80 percent to 90 percent of the island’s food, he noted, currently arrives in shipping containers.
“I’d like to turn that around and see us 80 to 90 percent food independent in eight years,” he said.
He wants a processing plant for poultry and small animals such as rabbits. He believes dairies should be able to sell raw milk if the purchaser signs a waiver. When asked about transitional housing for lava refugees, he says, “I’m kind of looking at more a community farm-based model” with “50 cabins with a common garden or farm.”
He thinks Hawaii Volcanoes National Park should be managed for pigs, not endangered species.
“This is Hawaii,” he said. “This is the middle of the Pacific. It’s not the Endangered Species Act that was written for the mainland U.S … Conservation for what? Not the people? Conservation for what? A plant? A bird? I think the Sierra Club today has way too much power.”
To cover the costs of the lava emergency, he favors eliminating the county’s “2 Percent for Public Lands” program, which was enacted by referendum several years ago. He also favors cutting civil service salaries in half — including his own, if he is elected, taking a $35,000 salary instead of the $70,000 council members currently get.
As of the latest deadline last week, Wirick had filed no reports with the Hawaii Campaign Finance Commission. He says he’s financing his own campaign.
More on Wirick’s views can be found in his Civil Beat Candidate Q&A.
For Matt Kanealii-Kleinfelder, sustainable agriculture is also a priority, but he disagrees with Wirick about park management.
“I think our national parks were designated as national parks for a reason,” Kanealii-Kleinfelder said. “I’m not going to stop anybody from hunting, but I’m not going to take away our national parks.”
He also disagrees with Wirick about raiding the“2 Percent for Public Lands” fund.
“It took a lot of effort to get that in the first place, and that should stay,” he said.
Kanealii-Kleinfelder is a journeyman electrician for a solar power company. He grew up at an environmental education camp in California, where his parents taught “science through hands-on experience with nature.”
He spent his summers with his grandparents in Hawaii, then moved here permanently to attend college in Hilo. He and his wife co-own Liko Lehua, which started out as a lilikoi butter business and evolved into a full-fledged restaurant.
“We already do support local agriculture,” he said. “A lot of our beef comes from Kulana (Kulana Meats, a local company). We use local produce. We grow agricultural products for our restaurant.”
Kanealii-Kleinfelder favors promoting farmers’ markets as outlets for local produce, and he supports low-cost agricultural loans — but notes that there are already loan programs available through FEMA and the Department of Agriculture.
On the shortage of housing for lava refugees, he notes that the first priority should be getting people into housing that’s already built.
“We need to take care of the immediate problem and while we’re doing that, plan for the future,” he said. “We already have so many empty homes and so much land available in existing subdivisions. There are homes that have been sitting for years as foreclosures. The county and state should work with the lenders that have those homes. If my family was living in Keaau Armory, I would be looking for an immediate fix to the problem, not an 18-month fix, to bring some normalcy to my life.”
The next priority, Kanealii-Kleinfelder said, should be the construction of “affordable housing and multi-tenant housing.”
“A lot of people who need housing can only afford about a $500 a month rent,” he said. “Your normal house is running, I’d say, $1,000 to $2,000 a month. Five-hundred a month — that’s a room in Hilo, if you’re lucky.”
He wants to encourage more businesses to open in the Keaau, Pahoa and Volcano areas, so residents don’t have to drive so far to reach their jobs.
And he wants more police, ambulance and fire protection for his sprawling district, where emergency response time can be slow.
Like Wirick, Kanealii-Kleinfelder is running a self-financed campaign. He has picked up endorsements from SHOPO and the electricians union.
More on Kanealii-Kleinfelder’s views can be found in his Civil Beat Candidate Q&A.
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