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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, March 2, 2003

War with Iraq would cost Hawai'i dearly

 •  Hawai'i clergy split on question of 'just war'
 •  Bikini Atoll survivors recall horror of nuclear explosion

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

A U.S. war with Iraq could cause major shipping disruptions and would drive up the price of fuel, which in turn would increase the cost of everything flown or shipped into the Islands, food distributors and shippers told the House Select Committee on War Preparedness yesterday.

Panel approves recommendations

The state House Select Committee on War Preparedness added new recommendations yesterday to the list it will pass on to the Legislature:

• Work with the Department of Education and administration of Gov. Linda Lingle to reinforce to the children of military members "our deep appreciation for the sacrifices of their parents."

• Encourage the Hawai'i Tourism Authority to work with Honolulu city officials and military officials to increase the number of Brunch On The Beach functions and stage them close to military bases.

• Ask the HTA to work with the visitor and hotel industries to offer hotel and airline price breaks for military families who want to come to the Islands.

• Work with nonprofit organizations to develop a program so military spouses won't feel the need to go back to their Mainland homes while their husbands or wives are deployed. Under the proposed program, local families would "adopt" and house Mainland relatives of military spouses.

• Work with the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve organization to offer support whenever employers lose workers to serve in the National Guard or military Reserve.

• Ask HTA to market specifically to active military forces stationed in Hawai'i.

And shipping officials told the committee that they still cannot guarantee the safety of what's inside their containers.

Horizon Lines, formerly CSX Lines, normally spends $80 million per year for fuel. This year the company expects to spend $110 million even without a change in oil prices, said Brian Taylor, Horizon's vice president and general manager.

"We're all concerned, very, very concerned about the price of fuel," Taylor said.

Myrna Chang, a vice president with Matson Navigation Co., called fuel "a major cost driver."

To which Rep. Brian Schatz, D-25th (Makiki, Tantalus), replied: "So it's safe to say that we can anticipate an increase in the cost of pretty much all the goods that we ship in as a result of the war and increased fuel costs."

Hotels, restaurants and retailers — especially those on the Neighbor Islands — already will need a year or two to recover from the higher costs they had to pay because of October's West Coast dockworker lockout, said Mark Teruya, president of Armstrong Produce Ltd., Hawai'i's largest produce distributor.

Over the course of the 10-day lockout, and in the weeks of backlogs that followed, produce and other perishable goods had to be flown in to Hawai'i at 2 1/2 times the normal shipping rate, Teruya said.

A $7 case of lettuce, he said, shot up to $20 and "the consumers of Hawai'i suffered."

If war breaks out, Teruya said, fresh produce will become scarce and it's possible that people will hoard Island staples such as rice, Spam and toilet paper. Most major retailers will probably only stock one month's supply of nonperishable goods, Teruya said.

Both of Hawai'i's major shipping lines have spent more for increased security but still don't know exactly what's in each of the 4,000 cargo containers they bring into the Islands each week.

"We can tell you everything you need to know about that container from the moment it's booked until the moment it lands," said Dale Hazlehurst of Matson. "However ... we wouldn't know what's in that container. We only know what we're told is in that container."

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Taylor said, Horizon Lines better scrutinizes foreign and first-time shippers. Still, nothing would prevent someone from mixing a bomb or chemical or biological weapon amid legitimate cargo, he said.

"We have no way to protect ourselves from those kinds of things at this point," he said.

State Adjutant General Brig. Gen. Robert G.F. Lee, director of state Civil Defense and head of the Hawai'i National Guard, said that improved technology is being deployed in foreign ports to better identify the contents of shipping containers.

"I believe we're progressing rapidly," Lee said.

But Mike Fitzgerald, president and chief executive of Enterprise Honolulu and a member of the committee, was still clearly concerned about possible threats inside cargo containers.

"Somebody could be putting timed-release anthrax, timed-release chemicals or a dirty bomb or a nuclear device and we wouldn't know it until it got to downtown Honolulu," he said. "Is that accurate?"

Taylor replied, "I would say that's reasonably accurate."

Reach Dan Nakaso at dnakaso@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8085.