Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 13 Primary Election, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions about where they stand on various issues and what their priorities will be if elected.

The following came from Colehour Bondera, candidate for Hawaii County Council District 6, which includes a portion of North Kona, South Kona, Kau and the greater Volcano area. The other candidates are Michelle Galimba, Shane Palacat-Nelson and Henry Cho.

Go to Civil Beat’s Election Guide for general information, and check out other candidates on the Primary Election Ballot.

Candidate for Hawaii County Council District 6

Colehour Bondera
Party Nonpartisan
Age 55
Occupation Farmer
Residence Honaunau

Website

Community organizations/prior offices held

Board member and president emeritus, Kona Coffee Farmers Association; founder and board member, American Origin Products Association; North American representative for oriGIn; board member, Kona Farm Bureau; 2011-2016 farmer representative, USDA National Organic Standards Board; board member, Beyond Pesticides.

1. What is the biggest issue facing Hawaii County, and what would you do about it?

In my view the biggest need is for our leaders to engage the island’s people in creating a positive vision of Hawaii’s future, and to work with them toward realistic solutions to the challenges ahead.

It is not hard to envision potential catastrophes. As an island we are far from self-sufficient with food or energy. There are threats to our environment on several fronts, from global warming to locally created pollution. What is hard is to bring citizens together around some of these challenges and incrementally take steps to address them.

It requires overcoming distrust, negativity, addressing historic grievances, and delivering positive, visible change. Positive achievements will build support, and help re-engage Hawaiians in civic life.

2. Overtourism can degrade the environment, threaten biodiversity, contribute to wear and tear on infrastructure, generate traffic and disrupt neighborhoods. What do you think about the amount of tourism on the Big Island and how it’s managed?

Tourism is an important part of Hawaii both socially and economically. Visitors to Hawaii should be invited and greeted, and offered arrival and departure transportation service. For visitors to our island the almost mandatory use of rental vehicles is a big part of what is considered “overtourism.”

Usually there is plenty of room on Hawaii island beaches, but what is crowded are the roads and parking areas. Our narrow roads are often jammed by cars and trucks carrying only one or a few passengers.

But is this an “overtourism” problem? I think it is a transportation problem. What if Hawaii County purchased a large fleet of electric buses that ran frequently throughout the island and to all the major tourist destinations? Accompanied by a real-time mobile app that informs riders of the next bus. This would be a tremendous benefit not only to visitors, but to many local residents, including seniors, students and lower-income households.

3. What needs to happen to relieve traffic congestion in and around Kailua-Kona and along the Puna-Keaau-Hilo corridor?

Solutions for these areas include improved and guaranteed free public transportation based on community parking lots, with appropriate drop-off spots established. Let’s get the cars off the road by using frequent electric buses. That along with “complete” bike/walking paths and impoved parking lots would reduce congestion. For pathways, we should also erect safety barriers in dangerous areas.

4. The cost of living on Hawaii island is rising rapidly. How are working and middle-class people expected to buy a house or pay the rent as well as take care of other expenses? And how can the county government help?

Relying on family and friends to get by is the current way that young and working class folks survive. This must be shifted by the county working toward three important primary goals: affordable housing, accessible and functional transportation, and agriculture production and distribution hubs which make local food available and cost-accessible for residents.

The county government could play a much more significant role in strategic land use to incentivize inclusive developments that reserve a portion of new homes for purchase or rent by moderate income households.

The high costs (both financial and environmental impact) of transportation must be dealt with by the county by setting up public transport systems which are available and accessible to workers who should not have to each maintain and use a car per person to survive, which is difficult for low income and young families.

Food production and availability would mean that we all could thrive using a “bottom-up” mentality of ensuring enough to eat as well as jobs for all involved in production, processing and distribution of local foods, systems incentivized by the county.

5. What is your view on Mauna Kea? Is there a way to support astronomy but also respect cultural concerns and be environmentally sound?

Since Mauna Kea has a long history of astronomy, it is a subject which needs community involvement to come to conclusions which are both culturally and environmentally sound. Decisions should not be made and imposed; we must find means to work with one another, based on good communication.

Mauna Kea is a sacred mountain, as some Hawaiians regard. The oversight board established by the Legislature recently should ensure that development of Mauna Kea’s scientific research facilities acknowledge the significance of the mountain for all Hawaiians. Creative solutions will respect the communities’ spiritual, environmental and scientific development concerns.

6. Do you feel the governor and Legislature appreciate the issues of Hawaii County, or are they too focused on Honolulu and Oahu? What would you do to change that?

Overall, Hawaii County is not given due recognition. We are the largest, most diverse island, with the majority of farms. We can provide for ourselves and be the food baskets for the other islands. The governor must appoint folks from Hawaii to important roles, such as Hawaii Department of Agriculture chair. The Legislature and governor must ensure agricultural funding and support tourism for Hawaii. Local Hawaii legislators must demand such shifts and follow through.

The governor and the Legislature respond to the “squeakiest wheel.” That tends to be places with more people, more money, or more economic power than Hawaii island. Maui and Kauai are better at getting attention and help from Honolulu because they know what they want and fight for it.

If elected, I will push for recognition of Hawaii County in agricultural appointments and allocations. I will work with our state and federal legislators to yield direct impacts at home and will seek opportunities for state and federal funding of a much-improved electric bus transportation system for Hawaii island. And I will work hard to build political unity for that goal.

7. Half of Hawaii’s cesspools are on the Big Island, some 49,300. Seepage from cesspools can make people sick, harm coral reefs and lead to a variety of ecological damage. By law, cesspools must be upgraded to septic systems by 2050. What can be done to help people who may not be able to afford the conversion?

Many farms and properties were established long ago, and the decisions made must be shared by all involved. To afford the required changes, now is the time to establish programs for financing to achieve the required work.

The law, while mandatory, may be unenforceable — installing functioning septic systems on the wholesale basis envisioned by the law will require more engineering, more digging and blasting, more construction and more money than Hawaii can muster.

Septic systems may be impossible to install in more dense areas, where most needed.

Other technologies should be explored to deal with sewage. In-home “gray water” systems can divert harmless dish and bathwater to gardens and grounds. Package sewage treatment plants, for higher density areas, can clean wastewater and recover solids for compost or landfill.

Adverse effects of ground and ocean seepage/pollution should be documented by testing in areas where pollution is suspected. Confirmed information should be shared with the public. Tailor solutions to the local conditions and the practicality of effective treatment. Fixing areas with observed pollution should take priority. Competent planning and engineering teams must be engaged by the government to work on those local solutions, together with residents and landowners.

8. Climate change is real and will force us to make tough decisions. What is the first thing Hawaii County should do to get in front of climate change rather than just reacting to it?

Our homes should be relying on energy and food which comes from our island; not on imports. We should get ahead of the environmental issues, by using non-fossil-fuel based energy production, especially for our county electrical grid, and non-fossil-fuel based agricultural systems including fertilizers. Climate goal timelines should be aggressive as we are running out of time to have an impact.

In general anticipation, sea level rise may be the first major impact of climate change on Hawaii island. Areas like Ali’i Drive in downtown Kailua Kona, and the waterfront of Hilo will see more frequent flooding, as will other coastal roads and settlements. The county and state should hire environmental experts to study areas that may be submerged, and to identify solutions. “Managed retreat” may be required in some areas, with possible public purchase of waterfront land to provide buffers to sea water incursion.

9. Should the Hu Honua biomass energy plant be allowed to start operating? Why or why not?

No. The Public Service Commission decision is correct, in my view.

The Hu Honua deal relies on substantial ongoing supplies of wood to be incinerated to generate electricity. While trees may be renewable, they grow slowly, and are a finite resource for our county. The inability of Hu Honua to obtain substantial ongoing commitments of trees for their project demonstrates the infeasibility of the plan.

In addition, Hawaii island needs locally grown wood for construction, rather than importing all of our construction lumber from the mainland and Canada. Eucalyptus is an excellent construction lumber, and can help achieve Hawaii island self-sufficiency goals.

10. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed numerous flaws in Hawaii’s structure and systems, from outdated technology to economic disparity. If you could take this moment to reinvent Hawaii, to build on what we’ve learned and create a better state, a better way of doing things, what would you do? Please share One Big Idea you have for Hawaii County. Be innovative, but be specific.

Hawaii County can and should develop locals to take care of ourselves from childhood through old age. Early education and upbringing, as well as all education and outreach efforts, should demonstrate the benefits and capacity for feeding ourselves and preparing and distributing our food to ourselves first, before exchanging the extra for items we do not produce — for our health, prosperity and the aina.

Food security and sovereignty is the most vital Hawaii County issue, with the fact of climate change being so problematic for all and time-sensitive, that we must not wait for actions. For example, electric farm machinery and tools, as well as electric cars/trucks/buses for processing and deliveries.

Toward this end, agricultural inputs shall shift to Hawaii-produced, and not imported. Indigenous Hawaiian farming systems inform the present approaches and would be great for mitigating climate change. Changes need to be fostered in local market demand, institutional buyers, and by farmers scaling up these local methods which will have an economic multiplier effect.

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