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Other Views

By David Kimo Frankel

Saturday, March 10, 2001

What ill will
tourism bode?

A year ago, the Sierra Club sued the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) to conduct an environmental assessment of bringing a million additional tourists on top of the 7 million who currently arrive annually.

We asked what the effect of too many tourists would be on our water supplies, roads, sewage systems, landfills, beaches and wilderness.

Despite the initial scorn and derision from tourism officials and the Star-Bulletin, the mainstream now supports the idea. The executive director of the Maui Visitors Bureau recently announced, "We cannot accept too many more arrivals on Maui anymore, let's face it."

Although the Supreme Court has not yet issued its decision, the state's own Environmental Council, publications like the Honolulu Advertiser and Pacific Business News, and top tourism officials have now embraced the idea of a study.

So, what should the study involve?

Bullet It needs to include lots of public input, from beginning to end.

Bullet It shouldn't be controlled by those who have an economic bias. Instead of letting tourism executives police themselves, the study must be done by an objective third party.

Bullet The study should examine our infrastructure. Can our overcrowded roads handle more tourists? The Maui Visitors Bureau admits that Maui's roads cannot.

Furthermore, how much more garbage will a million more tourists generate and where will we build landfills for their garbage? Can our wastewater treatment plants adequately treat all the sewage more tourists will generate?

Do we need more overhead powerlines in order to provide more electricity to more tourists? Can our trails handle more tourists? Manoa Falls certainly cannot. Will more hotels need to be built for these extra tourists? According to the HTA's own survey, 72 percent of residents oppose more hotel construction.

Bullet It should examine the effect of too many tourists on our environment. How much water will all these tourists use? We already know that Maui's Iao aquifer is being overdrawn.

Will free-flowing streams need to be diverted to support the growth in the tourism industry? Will we need to build more buildings and power lines to accommodate these tourists, thereby ruining open space and view planes?

Will more tourists mean the arrival of more alien species harmful to farming and native species? Recent inspections at Kahului airport prove that they will.

The study must look at places that have suffered from overuse. Hanauma Bay and Manoa Falls serve as classic examples of areas that have suffered from overuse from tourists. How do we prevent other areas from suffering the same fate? Aren't other sites threatened if an extra million tourists visit our islands annually?

Bullet The study must explicitly recognize the value of wilderness. Most studies fail to recognize this most important concept since wilderness cannot really be measured; it is only experienced. Ironically, some tourists come to Hawaii for the wilderness experience, which is harder to find these days. We know that too many tourists can destroy it. That is what happened on the Na Pali coast of Kauai. Tourcraft overflights destroy the wilderness experience at our national parks. So, too, do tour buses left with their engines on illegally, jetskis and crowds of people.

Bullet It must examine how too many tourists harm our quality of life. Do we want all our beaches to be as crowded as Waikiki? The fact is, most local folks don't want to go to the beach in front of a hotel. Will more tourists mean that locals lose the opportunity to catch waves at Makapuu and Sandy Beach without running into tourists?

Will tourists overcrowd parks that locals use? The study needs to address existing societal values regarding appropriate levels of intensity of use at various natural areas.

Bullet The study should examine tourists' desires. Will visitors keep coming if we are overbuilt and overcrowded? A survey of 1,000 Maui tourists found that 91 percent said that preservation of natural areas was the most important factor in their decision to return to the islands.

The time to answer these questions is now. After all, the environment is the economy.

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

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