Storm of opposition forces House to pull airport bill
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By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Maui County Bureau
WAILUKU, Maui A bill that would have eroded the authority of counties to approve airport improvements was put on hold by the state Legislature yesterday following a last-minute blitz of opposition from Honolulu and Neighbor Island officials and environmentalists.
House Bill 728 was recommitted to a conference committee, effectively retiring the measure for this year. Brian Yamane, House Transportation Committee staff member, said House leaders decided there wasn't enough time to address the concerns of those who opposed the legislation.
The bill, designed to increase the flexibility and flow of airport construction projects, would have allowed the state Department of Transportation to bypass the usual permitting processes of both the county councils and county planning commissions when expanding or constructing airports.
But environmentalists, House Republicans and officials from all four counties expressed disdain for the measure. Jeff Mikulina, Sierra Club's Hawai'i Chapter director, said the legislation would have had major implications for the planned expansion of the Kaua'i and Maui airports. In the case of Kahului Airport, the state abandoned its plans following 10 years of community opposition, court challenges and numerous planning hearings.
All nine Maui County Council members wrote a joint letter to state legislators last week urging them to kill H.B. 728. Councilwoman Jo Anne Johnson said eliminating the authority of county agencies over airport improvement projects would dramatically reduce the opportunity for public input.
The measure, as amended, would have provided a 45-day period in which the county councils could vote to reject an airport project. But county officials said 45 days wasn't long enough. Some argued that it would take away the right of individual citizens to challenge a project through the federal special management area contested case process.
In their letter to legislators, Maui council members said state officials and agencies are not directly accountable to the local population affected by airport improvements.