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Other Views

By David Kimo Frankel

Saturday, January 22, 2000

The environment
is the economy

WHEN the Teamsters refused to make large concessions to "Baywatch" producers, business leaders complained that their selfishness would ruin Hawaii's chances to be on TV. It did not.

When the ILWU threatened to strike in order to obtain wage parity with West Coast longshoremen, business leaders warned that the state's economic recovery would be jeopardized. There were no economic consequences.

When a federal court closed fishing grounds to save endangered turtles, longline fishermen warned that sashimi prices would skyrocket and the fishing industry would collapse. It did not happen.

Business interests often claim economic disaster whenever required to address the legitimate concerns of residents.

So, it should come as no surprise that the Hawaii Tourism Authority suggests that some sort of economic calamity will strike if it has to prepare an environmental assessment on the impacts of increasing the number of tourists coming here. But there really is no need for panic.

Bullet Tourism numbers are already up. And that's before the HTA has spent any of the extra money it is slated to receive to advertise Hawaii. The HTA is planning to spend twice as much money on advertising Hawaii as has ever been spent.

Bullet Tourism executives have repeatedly claimed that they spend far more money advertising Hawaii than the state spends. They will continue to spend this money -- regardless of the Sierra Club's lawsuit.

Bullet The long-term health of the tourism industry is jeopardized by too much growth. Tourists are abandoning Waikiki because it is overbuilt. And a survey of 1,000 Maui tourists reveals that tourists do not want to see more hotels and shopping centers built. They come to see our scenic vistas and to get away from the city.

However, Robert Fishman, chief executive officer of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, says that studying the impacts of increasing the number of tourists that come to Hawaii is "ridiculous."

It may be a ridiculous idea to corporations that maximize their profits by bringing in as many tourists to Hawaii as possible. But don't residents deserve to know the impacts of more tourists on our lives?

More tourists may require placing 138kv powerlines over Manoa to supply more electricity to Waikiki. It may mean more cars on H-1. It may mean more competition for waves at Sandy Beach. It may require the diversion of more streams to supply water to thirsty tourists. It may increase the risk that alien species pose to agricultural crops. It may mean more hotels -- even though 72 percent of those polled by the Hawaii Tourism Authority said they oppose more hotel construction. Isn't it reasonable to at least consider these impacts -- as well as economic benefits?

While giving lip service to the environment, tourism officials have rarely done anything to protect the bread and butter of their industry: our environment.

WHEN the Sierra Club pushed for improvements in our sewage infrastructure to protect coastal waters, the silence from the visitor industry was deafening. When the Ka Iwi coastline was threatened with massive urbanization, tourism executives did nothing to help us preserve the wilderness beauty.

When environmentalists fought developers' plans for luxury houses overlooking Kauai's Donkey Beach, a Hawaii Tourism Authority official supported letting the houses destroy scenic views.

The Sierra Club has worked diligently to protect Hawaii's environment-- for tourists and residents. We will continue in our endeavors.

We invite the visitor industry to join us.

David Kimo Frankel is chairman of the Sierra Club's Hawaii chapter.

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