A diverse group held a press conference at the state Capitol yesterday to oppose four bills that exempt state and county government projects from the standard environmental review process. About 50 people representing various community and environmental organizations laid out their opposition to the controversial legislation – part of the “dirty dozen” – they say will hurt Hawaii’s environment in a number of ways.
Spokespeople for Hawaii’s 1000 Friends, Earth Justice, Sierra Club, Save Oahu Farm Lands, Kakaako-Makai Community Planning Advisory Council, the North Shore Neighborhood Board, and the native Hawaiian community, were among those protesting bills, some of which are on the schedule for action today at the legislative crossover.
Robert Harris from the Sierra Club said: “Environmental laws helped protect Hawaii for the last 40 years, … helped keep the country country, and yet this year, perhaps more so than in the past, these laws are under attack. Let me be clear: Most people are fully in favor of the idea of streamlining – of trying to make sure we can have a healthy economy and a healthy environment. But what is being proposed today is not streamlining. It is attempting to fundamentally exempt the government from having to comply with its own laws.”
Specifically, the legislation includes:
SB 2927, introduced by Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, D-North Shore, which allows the construction of high-density projects via “Transit Oriented Developments” (TOD) to be built around rail and bus transit stations. The TODs could include the construction of structures that exceed height and density zoning limits built without the normal county planning and zoning change process. All state fees for construction around the city’s planned elevated steel on steel rail system will be exempt. In addition, no one will be held liable for problems: the legislation “indemnifies any county, its officials, or employees from any action taken on reviewing, approving, modifying or disapproving an application or plans for an exceptional planning project.”
Donna Wong, executive director of Hawaii’s 1000 Friends, said “Unplanned high-density Transit Oriented Development could impact and adversely affect conservation land, open shoreline recreational areas, historic sites and agricultural lands.”