Kawainui dispute shows need to revamp government duties
A disagreement between the state and the city has put at risk federal funds for a wetlands project at the marsh.
SQUABBLES between the state and city about which one is responsible for certain roads, land parcels and other operations aren't unusual in Hawaii, and that's the problem that has imperiled possible federal funding for a restoration project at Kawainui Marsh.
These jurisdictional battles, both large and small, not only frustrate taxpayers, but jeopardize ventures that could benefit the community.
Officials for both the state and counties should consider an overhaul of authority in order to streamline functions and remove overlapping duties. The revisions would likely reduce the cost of government, cut unnecessary roles and eliminate public confusion about who does what, where and when.
Piecemeal state-county jurisdictions, developed over the decades, continually produce disorder in Hawaii. For example, the state's improvements on Nimitz Highway were to be a boon for drivers, but the city controls traffic-light synchronization and because signal work was not coordinated, traffic on the highway has been miserable.
The Star-Bulletin's Kokua Line column is a catalog of incidents concerning the public's befuddlement about government functions. In many episodes, there are bewildering dual layers of authority difficult for people to sort out.
The most recent state-city tiff involves the marsh on Windward Oahu where a $5.5 million project to restore 40 acres of wetlands for a habitat for Hawaiian coots, moorhens, stilts and ducks has been put on hold. The state and city each own portions of the property that needs to be cleared of non-native plants.
City officials want the state to take responsibility for flood control maintenance if the state improves the area for habitat use. Meanwhile, state officials want the city to continue doing the maintenance.
The dispute, of course, involves money. Struggling to make ends meet, city officials would like to divest themselves of costly operations, but the state is reluctant to take them on.
The result is that federal funds to pay for most of the project might be lost. Congress isn't interested in shuttling money to enterprises that don't have local support, and the quarrel over the marsh is viewed as such.
Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye has obtained a token $10,000 to keep the project active, but he warned that the "failure to reach an agreement between the city and state" could kill it completely.
The habitat restoration might not be economically crucial to the islands, but it is good environmental strategy for endangered wildlife that contributes to Hawaii's attraction.
More importantly, the dispute illustrates how bureaucracy and turf wars between authorities persistently impede progress in Hawaii.