ALOHA SHUTS CARGO
GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
At Watanabe Floral in Kalihi, wedding consultant Joyce Kaneshiro stood yesterday near floral arrangements. The florist said the shutdown will affect availability of Maui's protea blossoms.
Flowers wilt first amid shutdown
The Big Island mayor says that Aloha's lack of communication is "totally unacceptable"
Neighbor island flower growers are among the hardest hit by the sudden shutdown of Aloha Airlines' cargo flights, an economic body blow that had business owners and county mayors reeling.
"To us it is another crisis," said Big Island Mayor Harry Kim. "This is a major impact."
Maui Mayor Charmaine Tavares said she hopes whatever happens, freight options remain available and affordable.
"What we're interested in is that we'll have the service," she said.
The first skirmish yesterday was just getting reliable information.
At 6 p.m. yesterday, Kim had received no notification from Aloha, leading him to express "resentment" at how the company handled the shutdown.
"I find this totally unacceptable," he said.
He had county attorney Lincoln Ashida on the phone attempting to find out from the court in Honolulu exactly what had happened.
Then he was in a conference call with Gov. Linda Lingle and other neighbor island mayors still trying to get accurate information. The governor will be working on contingency plans, he said.
Linda Puppolo, transportation representative for the Maui Flower Growers Association, said the shutdown would back up freight on Maui as well as on the Big Island.
"Flowers are perishable," she said. "Every hour out of water and in the box is diminishing the value of the flowers. The whole point of air cargo for flower growers is we get there fast."
Puppolo said Aloha Air Cargo and FedEx are the primary shippers for flower growers out of Maui, and competition between the two has been good for farmers.
"Without Aloha interisland service, I wonder what increases FedEx will come up with."
Mike Inouye at Pacific Floral Resources, who ships up to 10,000 pounds of flowers per week, said he has been dealing with Aloha for almost 20 years. But recently he has been trucking his products to Kona, shipping them from there directly to the mainland on United, Northwest and other air carriers.
Some saw the problem ahead of time. Big Island banana and tomato grower Richard Ha sought more customers on Maui, giving him enough product to make it feasible to use a Young Bros. barge container. He shifted to Young Bros. just last week, he said.
At the Big Island Farm Bureau, Lori Farrell said that is the kind of thing groups of small shippers are going to have to start doing. They will need to group their products in a single container.
Some farmers had hoped that the Superferry might provide a means of getting some products to Honolulu, but with Kawaihae on the Big Island being the last port the ferry will come to, that is still a year or more away, she said.
Businesses on the Garden Isle said they have been preparing for the past few weeks for the possible shutdown.
Earl Kashiwagi, general manager for Esaki's Produce, the largest produce supplier for businesses, hotels and restaurants on Kauai, said that because Aloha could not guarantee any shipments past Sunday, Esaki's had moved shipments to Young Bros. and Hawaiian Airlines for yesterday and today. Kashiwagi said he expected Kauai businesses "will go back to the old days" when the majority of produce was shipped via barge.
However, there will be a few days during the middle of the week when the barges will not come to Kauai.
"Chefs got to plan a little more ahead," Kashiwagi continued.
"It's lucky we've been through hurricanes. We know how to scramble," he added.
Star-Bulletin staff writers Rod Thompson, Gary T. Kubota and Tom Finnegan contributed to this report.