Sunday, January 6, 2002

Despite quieter night,
stricter enforcement
needed on fireworks

The issue: Smoke, noise and danger
from fireworks declined on New Year's
Eve for the second consecutive year.

FIREWORKS activity in the New Year's celebration in Hawaii showed a decline this year, but economic considerations probably were a greater factor than any widespread desire to lessen noise, smoke or human endangerment. Illegal aerial fireworks remain a problem, requiring stricter enforcement.

The decline in fireworks use this New Year's may have been more a matter of bad economic times than waning popularity. Here, a worker restocks store shelves.

A 48-year-old Waialua man died from head injuries when he fell from a tile wall while stringing firecrackers five minutes before midnight Monday. That fatality contrasts in nature with the death of an 80-year-old Palolo woman who died in one of three house fires caused by aerial fireworks, and the injury of a Maui man from the explosion of a homemade fireworks display, during the previous New Year's celebration. The only major structure fire during last week's festivities was at a portable building at Mililani High School that may have been deliberately set.

The number of fireworks permits issued by the counties declined sharply from the previous year, by close to one-third on Oahu and Kauai and by nearly half on Maui and the Big Island, according to figures complied on Monday afternoon. As a result, Honolulu police received 790 fireworks-related emergency calls during the the week ending Tuesday, a 29 percent decrease over the same period the previous year.

"With the tragedy of 9/11, people are taking a step back and measuring how important fireworks are to them," said Capt. Kenison Tejada of the Honolulu Fire Department. "A lot of them don't want to pay the high price of a permit. They're leaving the big fireworks shows to the professionals."

Despite the decline, the air quality was substantially worse than a year earlier at measuring points in Honolulu, Kapolei, Liliha and Paia shortly before the midnight peak of celebration, while smoke was not as dense in Pearl City and Kihei. State Deputy Health Director Gary Gill said the increased smoke may have been due to the amount of wind and the greater proportion of firecrackers than aerials near the ground-level monitoring stations.

While the smoke density was within state and federal safety standards, it still was "pretty awful for anyone with asthma or any lung disease," said John Hunter, program director of the American Lung Association.

The frightening aspect of last week's apparent economizing is that some residents may have chosen firearms over fireworks to celebrate. Two Kalihi Valley homes were struck by bullets on New Year's Eve, leaving holes up to 4 inches in diameter. One bullet passed through a house and into an adjoining house where the homeowner and a son were inside. By sheer luck, on one was injured.

Overall, the last week's New Year's Eve was an improvement in less smoke and noise for the second year in a row, following restrictions enacted by the Legislature.

War on terror takes
priority over legalities

The issue: A federal judge has refused
to halt Navy bombing exercises on the
Puerto Rican island of Vieques.

WHILE a federal judge in Washington said she had dismissed a lawsuit seeking to halt the Navy's bombing on a Puerto Rican island solely on legal grounds, political considerations have overshadowed legal issues since Sept. 11. Bombing exercises continue on the island of Vieques, as does Army live-fire training in Oahu's Makua Valley. That political reality is unlikely to change until after military forces are no longer required to fight what is anticipated as a lengthy war against terrorism.

U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler ruled last week that a 1972 federal law allowing state and local governments to regulate noise pollution was never intended "to create a private action for violations by a federal entity of the state and local environmental noise requirements." The suit was filed last year by Puerto Rico's governor soon after she had signed into law a statute barring loud noises along the shores of Vieques.

"While the political and policy issues raised in the case are complex and involve the clash of many important interests," the judge said, "the legal issue, in contrast, is simple and straightforward."

The opposite is more likely be true, on Vieques and as it was in Makua Valley. The lawsuit filed by a community group, Malama Makua, charged that the Army training was in violation of the National Historic Preservation Act and the Environmental Policy Act and demanded preparation of a thorough environmental impact statement.

Soon after the terrorist attack on the East Coast, Malama Makua agreed to a settlement that provides for the Army to conduct a lesser environmental assessment. In return, representatives of Malama Makua are allowed to enter the valley on occasion to monitor the training's effects.

Sparky Rodrigues, a Malama Makua board member, explained, "The world changed on the 11th of September." Meanwhile, many supporters of the Vieques lawsuit are reported to be concerned that the Puerto Rican government will reverse course for the same reason. Such a turnaround would not be surprising.

Although the Puerto Rican justice secretary pledged to appeal Kessler's ruling, further proceedings probably are fruitless. Contrary to what Kessler said, straightforward political and policy requirements outweigh legal issues that many regard as complex in normal times.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, Publisher

Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

Richard Halloran, editorial page director, 529-4790;
John Flanagan, contributing editor 294-3533;

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