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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 11, 2001

Hawai'i could be left with entire ADB security tab

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By Johnny Brannon
Advertiser Staff Writer

The federal government is under no obligation to reimburse Hawai'i for millions of dollars spent on security measures that accompanied this week's Asian Development Bank conference, and that is precisely why Seattle bowed out of a chance to be the meeting's host.

The Honolulu Police Department has spent between $2.5 million and $4 million on riot gear, training, overtime and other costs dealing with the ADB conference, Police Chief Lee Donohue said.

Advertiser library photo • May 9, 2001

"The feds wanted a free ride, and having seen the World Trade Organization conference, we knew it had a potentially high cost to us," said Dick Lilly, Seattle Mayor Paul Schell's press secretary.

The 1999 WTO meeting sparked serious riots, and the total cost to Seattle and surrounding suburbs was about $13 million, not including several pending lawsuits against the city for alleged police brutality, Lilly said. The federal government reluctantly reimbursed about $5 million, and Seattle officials sharply questioned whether they should be host to any future international trade conferences, he said.

The U.S. Treasury Department insisted that Seattle agree to pay all security costs associated with the ADB meeting if it were held there, "and the mayor responded by saying we will not sign a blank check," Lilly said. Even with the 1999 riots, Seattle would have played host to the ADB had it not been for the city's concerns about who would pay for protecting the area.

"If it had the economics of an ordinary convention, it would be a good deal for the city, but with the added economics of potentially higher security costs, some of these events look less desirable because they overtax the system," he said.

But Hawai'i officials jumped at the chance to be host of such a high-profile international conference, and Gov. Ben Cayetano and others say they hope the state will become a regular venue for such events.

"This was a real example to the world of how well a meeting can be hosted," said Kim Murakawa, Cayetano's spokeswoman.

Hawai'i Tourism Authority chief executive Robert Fishman said the nearly 3,000 people who attended the ADB conference likely spent many millions more here than was spent on security, and that the state has established itself as a big-league player for international meetings.

"We sent the message that Hawai'i is a lot more than a leisure destination," he said. "We're right up there on the level with Washington, D.C."

But there is no guarantee that the Treasury Department will help offset the conference's security costs, Murakawa confirmed. Still, the federal government's willingness to do so will not determine whether Cayetano welcomes future trade meetings, she said.

The Honolulu Police Department has spent between $2.5 million and $4 million on riot gear, training, overtime and other costs dealing with the ADB conference, Police Chief Lee Donohue said.

City spokeswoman Carol Costa said it could be a week or more before the full costs of the event are known, but that its benefits would be felt for years to come.

Future meetings would not necessarily require such heavy security, and they could generate major opportunities for local firms that specialize in road building, waste water treatment and other infrastructure projects, Costa said.

And some costs, such as the special police equipment, would not be a factor again because the gear is already here, she said.

However, organizers of Wednesday's protest said Hawai'i can expect much larger street protests if it is host to such groups as the WTO, the World Bank, or the International Monetary Fund, all of which are much better known than the ADB.

"If the WTO comes to Hawai'i, they'll have to shut down the state," said Joshua Cooper of ADBwatch. "I guarantee that people from around the world will come in to protest."

He said demonstrators had not tried to force heavy security spending to sour the ADB conference and make it difficult to hold similar events here in the future.

"We hate the wasting of money," he said. "We wish they'd put that money into education. We promised we'd be nonviolent, yet that was never respected, and the response was overkill."

But Donohue said the money had been a good investment to make sure the march remained peaceful and to train officers to handle similar events in the future.