Categorized | News

Kona Town Meeting: Budget, shelters and radiation

Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7 Editor

The Kona Town Meeting this month focused on emergency preparedness, although County Council Chairman Dominic Yagong kicked off Tuesday’s meeting with a quick budget update.

Yagong said he wanted to hear opinions on whether the county should authorize a $56 million bond, which would be dedicated mostly to construction and capital improvement projects.

Mayor Billy Kenoi first introduced the idea before last year’s election. The council voted then to postpone a vote on the bond, preferring to let the new council make the final decision.

Yagong said the council wants to see the funds tied to specific project. That means the administration needs to present a firm list of prioritized projects.

The debt service would amount to $4.2 million annually, Yagong said.

When he polled the audience of about 60 people, a smattering raised their hands in complete opposition to the bond and about the same number approved of borrowing $56 million.

The majority of people raised their hands when Yagong asked whether they supported a lower bond amount.

The council has discussed the bond once, but it still needs to come back for two votes.

Yagong said the council will address the mayor’s full budget at its May 5 meeting.

The rest of the Kona town Meeting was given over to a question-and-answer session with a panel that included South Kona Councilwoman Brenda Ford, County Deputy Managing Director Wally Lau, Assistant Police Chief Henry Tavares, Civil Defense Administrator Quince Mento, American Red Cross Hawaii Chapter disaster coordinator Barney Sheffield and Sen. Josh Green.

Most of the questions fell into two categories: emergency shelters and the potential threat of radiation fallout from Japan.

Residents voiced concerns about inadequate communication from authorities – specifically no published list of evacuation shelters and confusion over the all-clear announcement – the lack of mauka-makai roads, warning sirens that didn’t sound and who makes sure island visitors know how to respond.

Mento said the county has made progress in shoring up communications since the October 2006 earthquake. For example, he said, radio stations now have backup generators and the county ham radio operator network has been beefed up.

The Civil Defense website, he noted, continues to be “a weak spot,” but authorities do work closely with members of the media to get information out quickly.

Mento also said Civil Defense has just completed an updated list of emergency shelters that now includes West Hawaii Civic Center and Hisaoka Gym in Kapaau.

The list appears at the top of Hawaii 24/7’s home page under the red ‘Be Prepared’ button:

Mento cautioned that not every shelter would be opened in response to every emergency. For example, a brushfire in Waikoloa would not automatically trigger opening the Naalehu Clubhouse as a shelter.

While the county first uses it’s own facilities and state school buildings, Sheffield said the American Red Cross is looking to expand its network of community shelters, including church buildings.

Sheffield explained the difference between an evacuation center and an evacuation shelter. A center provides a safe place for people to get out of harm’s way, while a shelter provides somewhere to stay for displaced people.

Mento also noted the difference between state officials giving an all-clear signal and a county all-clear. He said people should listen for when roads are declared open; that means it is safe.

Tavares and Mento made a point of thanking residents for their timely and orderly response, including evacuating shorelines around the island within four hours. No major injuries or incidents were reported.

“We have a plan,” Tavares said. “It became a reality because you made it possible.”

The second half of the meeting focused on radiation fallout from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Numerous residents said they are concerned about the amount of radiation they might be breathing or ingesting.

Green is an emergency room physician, in addition to serving as chairman of the Senate Health Committee.

He cautioned against over-reacting, but urged people to watch for official updates from sources they trust, such as the federal Environmental Protection Agency and state Department of Health.

“To date, there has been no spike in radioactivity,’ Green said. “At present, we’re not at risk, but these are very dynamic situations.”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

RSS Weather Alerts

  • An error has occurred, which probably means the feed is down. Try again later.