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StarBulletin.com

Oahu gobbles resources as other isles make do


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POSTED: Sunday, August 30, 2009

Maggie Cox makes a good point. If public libraries on rural islands are to be closed to save the state some money, it's only fair that libraries on Oahu share the pain.

Cox represents Kauai on the Board of Education and though none of the libraries at the top of the list for shuttering are on the Garden Island, Cox speaks in defense of the stepchildren of the state.

They are the Cinderella regions of Hawaii, exploited for the natural beauty they have largely retained while most of Oahu has been so disfigured it is no longer eligible for the tourism image of unspoiled paradise.

They are expected to do the heavy lifting for undesirable projects like prisons and military training grounds, but stand at the back of the line for the good stuff like technologically top-grade schools and medical facilities.

They are described secondarily as “;neighbor islands”;—as if Oahu is the real home of the state—or “;outer islands,”; which makes no sense since inner and outer are simply matters of physical perspective.

Though arguably just words or labels, they also represent political and economic priorities.

Since most of the state's population resides on Oahu, more services and money for them are needed here. But for people who live on Hawaii, Kauai, Molokai, Lanai and Maui, starting with less is more painful when government decides they will have to get by with even fewer resources.

Libraries are the current illustration. The initial proposal for budget cuts targeted five libraries—three on Hawaii, and one each on Maui and Oahu—for closing. The reason given was that fewer people used these libraries so fewer people would be affected. True, but areas with smaller populations would correspondingly produce fewer library users, no?

Library officials also reasoned that patrons could go to other libraries, which would be fine if they lived on Oahu. For example, if Manoa library (which has been closed temporarily for renovation) shut down, people could bop down to the McCully branch, conveniently about a mile away.

On Hawaii, however, closing Pahala Library would require traveling about 10 miles down a twisting, two-lane road to Naalehu or to Mountain View or Keaau, about 50 miles away—by Hele-On bus if you have no car.

As things now stand, the shutdown list has been shaved to Lahaina on Maui and Holualoa and Kealakekua, with intermittent closings and cuts in hours at all branches on all islands.

Coming up with a plan no one will object to can't be easy. Still, indiscriminate slashing seldom produces best results.

It's not clear why Gov. Linda Lingle has decided to close Kulani prison and turn over the facility to the Hawaii National Guard for a youth program. Nor is it evident that she's evaluated the effects of laying off all but one of the 14 state agricultural inspectors on the island that grows for export most of the state's agriculture products.

But if Hawaii County officials, farmers and residents get the feeling she's got it in for them, you can't blame them. There are no fairy godmothers or Prince Charmings bearing glass slippers from the main land.