Under the Sun
Money measures value in land use conflicts
IN a brief item about the October earthquakes
, Time magazine observed that damage was limited and that people didn't die because the island nearest the quake's epicenter was largely "underdeveloped."
That the quakes, which were a big episode here, got just a tiny mention wasn't surprising what with Hawaii's out-of-sight, out-of-mind status in the national realm. But the magazine's appraisal suggests that development on the Big Island is inadequate, either economically or industrially or both, and reinforces the perceptions by which consumption of land is measured.
Maybe from a mainland point of view, thousands of square miles of unoccupied forests, lava fields, mountains, coasts and grasslands translates to "underdeveloped." Try selling that notion to a Kona resident who has to battle traffic just to get to the KTA, or to the driver from Puna stuck on the road to Keaau.
Land development, too much or too little, lies in the eye of the beholder, and in the islands, it is the most significant of issues, provoking more conflict than any other.
Not a day goes by without reports of lawsuits and disputes over land use, zoning changes and the like. A review of recent history brings to mind clashes large and small, from Waiahole-Waikane, Sandy Beach and Kakaako, to Nuuanu, Aina Haina and Niu Valley.
THE proposed resort project at Turtle Bay and Kawela is in its second divisive go-round. Though it got a green light for construction more than 20 years ago, red ink pushed the project into dormancy until revived prospects for profits put it back on track and back into controversy.
On Molokai, a plan for 200 expensive homes lots on Laau Point pierces through an island that has mostly escaped the kind of dramatic changes the rest of the state has accepted. There remain traces of subsistence living that was once typical in Hawaii and that has all but disappeared elsewhere.
Of course, land use cannot be untangled from money. Its development is entirely an economic circuit that sends cash flowing to workers, businesses and government. If not used, adapted, exploited or extracted, land is seen as without or of lesser worth.
Land consumed for production and distribution of wealth to satisfy material needs can be argued as a good deal -- if that's what you want. If you don't, if you find value in accumulating enough to stay fed and healthy while leaving minimal blemishes on the Earth in your wake, there's not much you can do.
ONCE in a great while, a strong group of individuals manage to preserve bits and pieces of the islands, like at Pupukea-Paumalu on Oahu's North Shore. But these are singular feats, requiring extraordinary, prolonged efforts.
Land use yokes every heavyweight industry in the islands, whether it be military programs, transportation, construction, retail and commercial, agriculture and -- the big-daddy -- tourism. Gov. Linda Lingle has acknowledged this "unwise path," as have others, and is attempting to alter Hawaii's course, albeit obliquely, by tying math and science education to a strategy for growth in technological enterprises.
As smart as it is, the plan doesn't seem quite enough. There will always be a press to buy and sell, to trade a chance of economic betterment for a section of coastline, a slice of forest, a share of the soil.
Molokai's choice -- to live in a manner consistent with previous generations while enduring insecure economic conditions or to accept the prevailing system of buying and selling land and throw off traditions -- won't be an easy one.
It should not have to be one or the other. There is value in sustaining parts of Hawaii different from the rest of the world. There should be spaces set aside for people content to live with enough, in balance with what the land and sea provide. There should be places left untouched as much for their beauty and as for the vitality harbored in unburdened, underdeveloped ground.
has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at email@example.com