Tuesday, January 29, 2002

Mayor Harris unveiled several environmental initiatives yesterday and promised not to raise property taxes. In the audience were newly elected Council member Ann Kobayashi, U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie and UH President Evan Dobelle.

Harris backs
better waste handling

In his annual speech, the mayor
weighs in on the environment

Electric buses, better gardens also on agenda

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

A plan to increase capacity at the city's H-POWER plant and other ways of making waste disposal on the island more efficient took center stage yesterday in Mayor Jeremy Harris' eighth, and possibly last, State of the City address at Honolulu Hale.

And while the actual text of the speech gave no clue as to whether he is reconsidering his decision to step down as mayor and run for governor in July, Harris' off-the-cuff comments and statements to reporters afterward made it clear he intends to run.

Harris, drawing on his environmental roots, proposed that recycling efforts be redoubled and that the amount of waste going to the landfill is reduced by 80 percent.

The mayor wants to incorporate plasma arc technology at H-POWER, which will turn up to 50 daily tons of refuse into reusable hydrogen that can be used to power vehicles and reduce oil dependency.

Also planned are a solid-waste separation facility at the H-POWER site, Harris said. Such a scheme would allow waste to be accepted directly at the waste-to-energy plant because combustibles could be separated.

Harris further wants seven acres next to H-POWER for a recycling technology park. "Automobile components, treated lumber and other materials that used to clog our landfill will be recycled and made into useable building materials," he said.

Cost figures will not be available until a budget is submitted in March to the City Council, Harris said, adding that the new technology projects will eventually pay for themselves.

The mayor also said a contract has been awarded to a private-sector business to "build a facility to transform (sewage) sludge into a valuable soil amendment that will be sold," and will be completed by 2004. Harris gave no cost estimates for the initiatives but vowed that he will not be proposing a hike in property tax rates this year.

Council Chairman Jon Yoshimura, who gave Harris a warm introduction to his address, praised the emphasis on waste concerns and transit. While the topic of waste is not an appealing one, he said, "I think it's important that these points be made at this time -- to let the people who might still be here know what some of the challenges are that are facing this island."

But Councilman Gary Okino, one of only three of Yoshimura's colleagues eligible for another term, said he was hoping for more from Harris.

The address was short on how the administration expects to deal with a growing debt problem caused by a large number of high-priced capital improvement projects, many of them mandatory, Okino said.

"I don't know how we're going to afford all of it," he said.

Harris made it clear he intends to stick it out as a gubernatorial candidate in the wake of an investigation into his election committee's practices by the Campaign Spending Commission.

The agency has forwarded its documents to prosecutors.

After the speech, Harris told reporters that has no intention of backing off his plan to run for governor.

"My intention, as I've stated before, is to run for governor," he said.


Electric buses, better
gardens also on agenda

Star-Bulletin staff

Other highlights of Mayor Jeremy Harris' address yesterday include:

>> No increase in property tax rates in the coming year despite an anticipated $24 million increase in collective-bargaining pay for city employees.

>> A bill to protect agricultural lands by requiring a two-thirds majority approval from the Council to upzone parcels around the island that are part of 87,000 acres outside urban growth areas.

>> Funding for construction of the first leg of the in-town, electric bus portion of the mayor's $1 billion Bus Rapid Transit project will be in the coming budget, although no specific price tag was given.

>> Improving the Koko Head, Foster and Wahiawa botanical gardens and purchasing Waimea Valley Gardens.

>> Planning for a Leeward Amphitheater in Kapolei, a surfing museum in Haleiwa and reconstruction of the OR&L railroad from Aiea to Waianae.

>> Continuing to provide neighborhood restoration projects such as a town center at the Aiea Sugar Mill and establishing a training site for Special Olympics participants at Dole Community Park.

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