It had been a busy news year even before the tragic August wildfires in West Maui.
Twelve months. More than 2,000 stories published and viewed 9 million times.
It’s been a busy year at Civil Beat, especially since Aug. 8. We’ve published more than 300 Lahaina fire-related stories and columns. In August alone, we reached 4 million people across the world, including nearly a half-million people in our islands.
Special projects this year included Permit Pileup, an investigative series looking into delays in Honolulu’s Department of Planning and Permitting; The Long Road Home, in which we’re following families who lost everything in Lahaina; Blast from the Past, a series that looks at how we can learn from the past; and a push to focus on Oahu condo issues such as management companies and state oversight of associations.
It’s not easy to single out a small number of stories or series for special recognition at year’s end. But taking a month-by-month approach, here are some that stood out to me as Civil Beat’s director of audience.
On New Year’s Day, we launched our series, “The Life and Legacy of Prince Kuhio.” Reporter Kirstin Downey explored how, as a Native Hawaiian in Congress, his work on behalf of Hawaii led to substantial legislative accomplishments that still resonate today.
We promise you’ll learn a thing or two! Check out this 10-part series.
Former Maui Environmental Management Director Stewart Stant was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison in February for his role in directing some $20 million in contracts to a wastewater company. Stant’s sentence was handed down as part of what’s been called the largest bribery case in Hawaii history.
In March, we spoke to the owner of a 94-foot luxury yacht that ran aground at Honolua Bay, spilling fuel in the waters leading to one of Maui’s most pristine marine sanctuaries. We also interviewed several of his former workers, who said Jim Jones repeatedly ignored state boating regulations and skirted recommended safety practices, to the point where multiple people who worked with Jones said they quit because of risky behavior.
Later that month, the investors behind the yacht sued Noelani Yacht Charters, its owner and the captain on the day of the wreck.
The Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources had for years planned to spend millions of dollars to haul sand from the bottom of the ocean to widen the beach in front of Kaanapali resorts. Some worried that the move could set a precedent that the government would foot the bill to protect private property that could one day be flooded by rising seas.
In a sudden change of course, the Board of Land and Natural Resources voted in April to reject the state’s plan — one of the largest proposed beach replenishment efforts in state history.
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But as the legislative session wrapped up in May, the Sunshine Editorial Board wrote that it was “an infuriatingly typical session,” despite a “sharpened focus on making state government more transparent, ethical and accountable.”
“Many reform measures were shot down, sometimes with no explanation, other times with bad explanations,” the board wrote.
Federal authorities executed a search warrant in June at the Honolulu offices of Dawson, a conglomerate of Native Hawaiian-owned companies that receive tens of millions of dollars in government contracts, mostly from the U.S. Department of Defense. Employees described the search as a “raid.”
Two weeks later, Christopher Dawson — the head of the conglomerate — took a leave of absence.
Gov. Josh Green unveiled a plan to build 50,000 new homes over the next three to five years in July. He issued an executive order to suspend a half dozen state and county laws, primarily focusing on land use, historic preservation and environmental review.
Some wondered if he took things too far, and in September, the governor opted to reverse the most controversial aspects in an effort to bridge increasingly divided sides.
As Hawaii and the world reeled from the devastation in Lahaina and Kula, the Sunshine Editorial Board argued that “no one should be revictimized because they lack political clout.”
The board chimed in as people speculated that outsiders could swoop in and buy up land from distraught property owners. “We also must remember that while the fire scene looks like a single vast wasteland, it’s actually a patchwork of private properties whose owners still have rights — including the right to sell to whoever they want,” the board wrote.
Nearly a month after the Aug. 8 fires, Civil Beat launched “The Lives We Lost” in memory of our neighbors killed in the Maui fires. We’ve been collecting photos and stories to honor who they were, the lives they lived, and what they meant to a community that is now scattered and in mourning.
October marked the launch of our first story published in partnership with The New York Times.
Local investigations reporting fellow Blaze Lovell wrote about how not much has changed in the system that a Honolulu businessman exploited to bribe officials and win over Maui County contracts — even as the county prepared to spend millions in the aftermath of the fires.
In November, we began sharing the stories of a few families who lost everything in the Lahaina fire for our new series, “The Long Road Home.” It continues to explore the challenges they face and the milestones they achieve.
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Earlier this month we learned that Alaska Airlines will buy Hawaiian Airlines for $1.9 billion, pending approval by the U.S. Department of Justice and shareholders of Hawaiian Holdings, Inc.
The deal came after a series of talks in recent months that were kept secret so no one could trade on it. Reporter Marcel Honoré took us inside these negotiations.
Mahalo for relying on us in 2023. To our friends and neighbors who continue to grieve and navigate life after the Aug. 8 fires: Our hearts are heavy with yours this holiday season.
We’ll continue to ask tough questions in 2024 as we report on Maui recovery efforts, a new legislative session and much more. Stay on top of our latest coverage by signing up for our free morning newsletter — or any of the other free email newsletters we offer.
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