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Holualoa ‘talks story’ with Kenoi, staff

Mayor Billy Kenoi at a 'talk-story' session in the Kona Imin Center in Holualoa.

Mayor Billy Kenoi at a 'talk-story' session in the Kona Imin Center in Holualoa. Photography by Baron Sekiya for Hawaii 24/7.

Karin Stanton/Hawaii247 Contributing Editor

Mayor Billy Kenoi and his staff heard from more than 60 Holualoa residents Tuesday night at a “talk story,” one of a round of 10 across the island.

Most of the issues and concerns were familiar to residents and county staff – ranging from floods to roads to coqui frogs to the Holualoa Library.

Kenoi said the county is facing a budget shortfall of $38.1 million this year, and a shortfall of $44.8 million next year.

Real property taxes down 10 percent – or $17 million – and the state likely next year to attempt to stiff the counties on their share of transient accommodation tax – another $17.4 million.

That could leave the county scrabbling for $100 million in a budget that totals $386.4 million.

Kenoi pointed to the county assets including two international airports, two harbors, the majority of the state’s agricultural land and the potential to hugely increase its renewable energy.

He also noted the Big Island will be the recipient of $96.4 million in federal stimulus money.

Part of his administration’s focus is increasing the island’s hospitality capacity. For example, Kenoi noted a boost in the number of airlines and flights coming directly to the island, supporting an uptick in the number of potential visitors.

“If you land on Oahu and go to Waikiki, it does us absolutely no good on our island,” Kenoi said.

He does, however, see a brighter future.

“It’s gonna be a little bumpy for little while, but we’re gonna be OK,” he said.

After his introductory remarks, Kenoi entertained questions.

The WHT vs. County Council lawsuit over Sunshine Law violations

Kenoi said he appreciates the lawsuit now has been settled and will not cost the county any more money.

Kenoi declined to comment further, saying it really was a internal issue within the council, although he hoped the council and executive branch could work together.

Civil Defense Agency and natural disasters

Quince Mento, Hawaii County Civil Defense Director, and Mayor Billy Kenoi talk about the tsunami advisories issued the past month.

Quince Mento, Hawaii County Civil Defense Director, and Mayor Billy Kenoi talk about the tsunami advisories issued the last month.

In the last few months, the Big Island has been threatened by a couple of tsunami and at least one hurricane.

Kenoi said the county services that are charged with keeping residents and property safe use these instances as rehearsals for the real thing.

Representatives from the departments and agencies respond immediately to any potential threat, he said.

“Within minutes of finding out about a potential threat, everyone reports to the emergency operations center,” he said. “We don’t even have to call them.”

Civil Defense Agency Director Quince Mento said the agency has two responsibilities – to mobilize government and to keep the public safe.

By experimenting and testing all available methods – including telephone, e-mail and text messaging – the county is gaining knowledge about what works best and what doesn’t.

While admitting to some hiccups, Mento said, each threat that passes the island by is an opportunity for emergency services to learn what they need to improve.

“We’re getting a little smoother and a little quicker,” he said.

Planning Department permits

One of Kenoi’s campaign promises was streamlining the Planning Department’s permitting and application process.

He said Big Island residents can order something online and immediately get a tracking number, allowing them to plot their purchase until it arrives at their door, but county permits get lost in the shuffle and not one county employee can say where a specific application might be.

County officials have been meeting with engineers and other interested stakeholders to determine the best way to fix the system and the best software to track applications.

While acknowledging the poor economy, Kenoi said there should be no excuse for the county to hold up construction projects.

“If people aren’t at work because of county government inefficiencies, that’s my responsibility and I do take full responsibility for that,” he said.

He gave no indication of when improvements might be made.

Mayor Billy Kenoi's 'talk-story' session at the Kona Imin Center in Holualoa.

Mayor Billy Kenoi's 'talk-story' session at the Kona Imin Center in Holualoa.

Highway 180 or North Kona Belt Road or Mamalahoa Highway

Several residents commented on dangerous conditions along the stretch of road between Palani Junction and Honalo Junction.

Department of Public Works chief Warren Lee said the fact remains it is a two-lane country road that has steep cliff-like terrain below and above.

Lee said several factors complicate any work toward sidewalks and paved shoulders.

Sidewalks would need to comply with federal disabilities standards, which would be almost impossible considering the terrain.

Paved shoulders along the entire stretch would require the county to obtain rights-of-way or property.

Lee said the quick solution would be to pave existing shoulders, but in the current economy, that is a tall order.

Other residents asked for more speed limit enforcement and a greater police presence to deter careless driving.

Traffic calming devices such as speed humps are not feasible because they could impede emergency vehicles.

Mayor Billy Kenoi answers questions from the audience in Holualoa.

Mayor Billy Kenoi answers questions from the audience in Holualoa.


Kenoi and his staff said they are aware of flooding issues in North Kona and South Kona, and have been working with FEMA to complete new flood plain maps of the area.

That would be the first step in addressing the issues.

Coqui frogs

Kenoi was appointed by former Mayor Harry Kim to tackle the coqui frog problem, which has spread from Hilo-side to torment many residents.

Kenoi said he got laughed at when he brought up the issue at the state level. Frogs, apparently, were not seen as a big deal, although Kenoi said he stressed they have become a quality of life issue on the Big Island and a formidable foe.

“It’s been very frustrating,” Kenoi said. “The county has no jurisdiction over invasive species.”

There are state and federal agencies and regulations that serve as huge roadblocks, Kenoi said.

“We couldn’t get baking soda approved,” he said.

The county cannot recommend residents use baking soda to eradicate coqui on their property. That’s because it does not say specifically on a baking soda box that the compound has been approved for eradicating coqui.

Just because the county cannot recommend it, does not mean it doesn’t work …

Also, Kenoi said other chemical solutions or biological methods (for example, a specific fungus) need state and federal approval.

Caffeine at one point was floated as a potential solution, although only pure caffeine is lethal to coqui and its potential negative side effects to humans, flora and fauna are unknown.

So that was out, Kenoi said.

Holualoa Public Library

The state public library, under the umbrella of the state Department of Education, is to be closed “indefinitely.”

Mayor’s executive assistant Bobby Command said the library building sits on county land that had been turned over to the state though an executive order.

Kenoi said he would be willing to ask the Board of Education to turn the building back over to the county for use a community center or learning center.

Such a project likely would need to be a county/commmunity partnership pooling resources, risks and rewards.

‘Talk Story’ schedule

Mayor Billy Kenoi’s ‘talk story’ sessions are 6-8 p.m.

Wednesday, Oct. 21 — Waiakea High School

Tuesday, Oct. 27 — Honaunau School

Wednesday, Nov. 4 — Cooper Center (Volcano)

Thursday, Nov. 12 — Honokaa Gym

Tuesday, Nov. 24 — Naalehu Community Center

Mayor Billy Kenoi and Executive Assistant Bobby Command talk about the possible use of Holualoa Public Library by the county.

Mayor Billy Kenoi and Executive Assistant Bobby Command talk about the possible use of Holualoa Public Library by the county.

4 Responses to “Holualoa ‘talks story’ with Kenoi, staff”

  1. Paul Maddox says:

    Mahalo for your excellent coverage of our “Talk Story” with the Mayor and his staff. This is the 1st time a Big Island Mayor has held such a meeting Holualoa and it was very well received.
    We get lots of political candidates looking for votes before elections, but Billy Kenoi and his staff are the only ones who have ever come back to get community input AFTER they’ve been elected.
    And a big mahalo to Hawaii247 for your kokua and coverage.

  2. Kari Kimura says:

    Great reporting! Paul sent the link to me. I am VERY impressed with the accurate reporting of Karin Stanton and What a wonderful news service you are providing for our community.

  3. Mary Lovein says:

    I was impressed at how articulate our mayor is and how well he addressed all of the questions. It was the first time I had met him and my eyes and ears were open. I am glad I attended.
    Thank you Paul Maddox for making this possible. Thank you Karin Stanton for excellent coverage of the meeting.
    Mary Lovein
    Holualoa Gallery
    Member of Holualoa Village Association

  4. Mary Lovein says:

    Thank you to all, those who presented, participated and covered this event.


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