Thursday, February 4, 1999


Kauai looks to build
an economic future with
exotic hardwoods

Anthony Sommer


LIHUE -- Kauai is positioned to become a major producer of tropical hardwoods for the mainland market, a panel of experts has told a symposium on forestry.

But members of the audience were less sure and offered a lengthy list of problems that will have to be addressed before Kauai's sugar fields can be turned into tree plantations.

The symposium was set up by the Kauai Economic Development Board.

"I've never seen a place so set up for a switch from one product to another," said ForBio chief executive officer Laith Reynolds, a Honolulu-based agro-forestry consultant.

"There needs to be the quickest possible entry into the market," he added.

Reynolds recommended Kauai start with eucalyptus, a relatively fast growing tree that can yield a short-term cash flow.

But the real target should be exotic hardwoods and that will take from 10 to 13 years to grow a crop ready to be harvested, Reynolds said.

He also recommended Kauai aim for a complete forestry industry.

"We're talking about logs. We're talking about finely milled material," he said.

Bill Cowert, president of Kauai's Hawaiian Mahogany Co., said Kauai is in a perfect position to take advantage of a "loophole" in international treaties banning the export of tropical hardwoods from one country to another. The treaties were designed to save tropical rain forests.

"Brazil can't sell Brazilian rosewood to the United States. But if we grow Brazilian rosewood here, we can sell directly to the mainland," he said.

Cowert noted that's what his company already is doing.

Right now, Brazilian rosewood sells on the mainland for $125 per board foot and African pink ivory, which he also is growing, goes for $600.

He predicted Kauai is capable of producing up to 100 million board feet of hardwood a year.

But the audience was quick to bring up concerns.

One is the availability of land now held by the sugar companies and whether they would be willing to sell it or lease it. And if it is leased, for how long?

Another is finding sources of capital that are willing to wait 10 years or more for a return on their money.

And to build sawmills, investors would have to be assured of a regular supply of logs for production.

There are questions of liability and crop insurance and hurricanes.

Several panelists said a major incentive may be carbon synchronization, an environmental plan under which companies that produce carbon exhaust from the use of fossil fuels will be required to invest in agriculture that removes carbon from the atmosphere.

"That could become a major source of cash flow for tree plantations," said Steve Smith of Forestry Management Consultants.

Kauai ex-employee
wins $300,000 settlement
from Navy

By Harold Morse


A former Kauai civilian employee has won a $300,000 settlement for sex discrimination at the Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility.

Sheryl Qualls worked for the missile range at Barking Sands and was fired as a senior-level contracts administrator in 1996, said her attorney Clayton Ikei.

"Unacceptable performance" was listed as the reason for the firing, which occurred after she filed complaints about gender discrimination and improper operations at the facility.

"I'm pleased that justice finally prevailed in my case," Qualls said, adding she hopes the settlement sends a message that blatant discrimination against women won't be tolerated.

Terms of the settlement specify the Navy admits no wrongdoing, but Ikei said it is clear discrimination occurred.

Qualls was transferred to the missile facility as a supervisory contracts administrator in January 1991 and reportedly observed male workers cursing at women staffers and committing other abuses.

Her complaints of abuse and hostility were ignored for almost three years, and then she was abruptly removed from her position for four months for "re-evaluation," Ikei said.

On doctor's orders, she took medical leave for work-related stress; after exhausting paid leave, she took leave without pay until she returned to work on Dec. 1, 1994, Ikei said.

When she returned to work, Qualls found she was in a work position inferior to her previous one, he said. After her complaints were eventually rejected, Qualls filed a federal lawsuit.

Depositions showed a pattern of abuse, Ikei said. In March 1997, a series of complaints was settled, and court documents revealed Qualls had received $125,000 in damages; then in July 1998, the Navy agreed to settle the federal suit by paying an additional $175,000, Ikei said.

"While I'm pleased this episode is now behind me, it's tragic that so many government agencies that are supposed to protect employees or protect the public from waste and fraud apparently did nothing to put a stop to the abuses in my case," Qualls said.

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