Kauai can run, but it can’t hide forever
When the first traffic light was installed on Kauai, not that many years ago, it made front-page news across the state.
The Kauai building code still limits construction to 48 feet, said to be no taller than the tallest coconut tree. And the Kauai County Council voted unanimously earlier this year to ban the super-sized versions of the big-box retailers, although Costco, Wal-Mart, Kmart and Home Depot all operate successfully on the island.
Despite voting in two Republican mayors, Kauai is the bluest of the Hawaiian islands. It is where Democrats go to feel loved and where the GOP can only dream of "making inroads."
Modern Kauai, however, survives because of tourism; without tourists, Kauai would only limp along on minimal agriculture and the Barking Sands missile test range.
Tourists are not what Kauai fears, it is the rest of the state. Specifically, it is the rest of the state coming to Kauai in their minivans and SUVs to clog the already choked roads.
The primo surf spots will fill, lush mountain trails will be spoiled, beaches will be discovered and overrun.
The agent of all this is the Hawaii Superferry, a new 350-foot, high-tech maritime marvel that can cruise at 38 knots, carry 800 passengers and more than 200 cars and is taller than any Kauai coconut tree could ever be.
The controversy is that while a vocal portion of Kauai, including the county council, wants to stop the ferry, the ship is the agent of hope for others.
There are truck farmers looking to move produce from Kauai to markets in Honolulu; there are handicapped who cannot board a commercial plane, who will be able to roll easily up the ramps. And there are contractors hoping to take their trucks to Kauai to work.
Both sides have been surprisingly tone deaf.
The supporters of the ferry say, "Just because you love birds, fish and tidal pools does not imbue you with a moral superiority."
The opponents can't see around the traffic jam on Rice Street, can't afford their electricity bills and can't stand to see another house go up in front of theirs.
Since 2000, Kauai's population has grown nearly 8 percent, about 27 percent faster than the state as a whole. The population has more Caucasians than the state average and since 2002 a net increase in the population, while Honolulu shows a net decrease. Kauai has growing pains. It also has little room to maneuver in a fast global economy.
Unless Kauai wants to become a boutique island, ready to be cast aside for the next trendy island, state leaders will have to step up to the challenge of coexistence and understand new ideas.