Thursday, January 30, 2003

Panel will anticipate
war's toll on Hawaii

A state defense official says the
major threats are to highways,
fuel and water supplies

By Pat Omandam

Convinced by President Bush's speech this week that war against Iraq is a strong possibility, the state House unanimously charged a committee to study how well Hawaii is prepared for it.

"Having listened to President Bush's State of the Union speech (Tuesday), it would appear that the likelihood of war with Iraq is very high," said Marilyn Lee (D, Mililani), House majority floor leader. "There is, of course, no way to anticipate every threat. But we owe it to the people of Hawaii to do everything in our power to minimize the risks that we can anticipate," she said.

House Speaker Calvin Say (D, Palolo) named 10 people to the Select Committee on War Preparedness yesterday, which will be led by Vice Speaker Sylvia Luke (D, Pacific Heights-Punchbowl).

The committee will study Hawaii's reserves of oil, food and other necessities, as well as the effect war could have on the state's economy. It will also review the state's security against military and terrorist threats.

Deputy Adjutant General Gary Ishikawa said the biggest threat to Hawaii is the potential that terrorists could respond to war in Iraq by attacking the state's infrastructure.

"By that, I mean our highways, our fuel depots, our water supplies and such things, and that's where we're spending a lot of time and effort," said Ishikawa, who represented Adjutant General Robert Lee at an introduction of the committee members yesterday.

Say said the Legislature must be "a step ahead" of the economic impacts of a war, which could include a significant drop in tourism and the loss of revenue from Hawaii's military community as members are deployed.

Legislators learned this hard economic lesson firsthand in 1991, when the Persian Gulf War led to a steep drop in state tourism and military revenue just as Japanese capital investments into Hawaii began to fall.

"Basically, what we saw was a slowdown as tensions escalated before the war actually started, and then when the war actually started, we saw a huge drop in the numbers of visitors and a huge impact on our economy," said state economist Pearl Imada-Iboshi, who is on loan to the Governor's Office and is a member of the war preparedness committee.

"However, because the duration of the war was very short, we saw a turnaround very quickly in terms of the visitor arrivals. Within about a month or two, we started to see the numbers coming back up again," she said.

Imada-Iboshi said Hawaii's economy is better situated now than it was in 1991. But she predicts visitor arrivals will suffer as it did during the Gulf War and following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Luke said one lesson learned from 9/11 is that it took lawmakers more than two months to regroup in a special session to tackle the economic fallout here, which included massive layoffs in tourism-related jobs.

Rep. Marilyn Lee (D, Mililani) spoke yesterday in favor of creating a committee to examine Hawaii's war-readiness.

"During the two months, lot of people suffered. ... A lot of people didn't know what to do, and they were looking to government for some solutions, for some hope," Luke said. "One of the reasons for this committee, and to do it now, is to be prepared and have some hope in case there's war. Two months is a long time for people to wait."

The panel holds its first meeting Saturday and will issue weekly reports. Luke expects final recommendations to the Legislature two weeks before the session ends on May 1, enough time for lawmakers to act, if needed.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell will make the United States' case against Iraq during a meeting with the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday.

U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, said this week he did not feel the president made a case for war in his speech, but it is clear if one takes place, there will be economic consequences.

"If there's military action in Iraq, it will be devastating to Hawaii's economy," he said.

War Preparedness Committee

Here are the members of the Committee on War Preparedness convened by the state House to study the impact a war on Iraq will have on the state:

>> Robert Alm, senior vice president, Hawaiian Electric Co.

>> Kirk Caldwell, House Transportation Committee vice chairman

>> Michael Fitzgerald, president and CEO of Enterprise Honolulu

>> Pearl Imada-Iboshi, state economist

>> Ken Ito, House Public Safety and Military Affairs chairman

>> Faye Kurren, president, Hawaii Tesoro Corp.

>> Robert Lee, state adjutant general

>> Sylvia Luke, House vice speaker

>> Brian Schatz, House Economic Development Committee chairman

>> Cynthia Thielen, assistant House minority floor leader

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