Monday, February 4, 2002

Fed wildlife agency made
poor partner

The issue: An ecotourism operation at
Midway is scheduled to be closed next month.

THE latest entry on the endangered list is an innovative federal-corporate partnership aimed at providing tourists and researchers a close glimpse of rarely-seen wildlife in the far reaches of Hawaii. The corporate partner in the program blames government obstinacy for the predicament. Efforts should be made to save the program if is at all feasible.

Midway Phoenix Corp. has operated an ecotourism resort in the Midway Islands since 1996. Under its federal contract, it built a resort and has operated a harbor, power plant and an airport on the landing strip built before Midway gained fame for a battle known as World War II's turning point in the Pacific.

Midway Phoenix has announced its closing in early March, blaming the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for being too restrictive about where visitors may go and what they are allowed to do. Although part of the state of Hawaii, Midway, about 1,400 miles northwest of Honolulu, is under federal control as a national wildlife refuge. Midway Phoenix pays the salaries of the Fish and Wildlife officers who maintain the refuge.

"With this kind of extremism with Fish and Wildlife, it's difficult to make a profit out there under that regime," says Bob Tracey, the company's vice-president. "We're exhausted fighting the war." He says the company has lost more than $15 million because of the restrictions.

Barbara Maxfield, a Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman, says the agency is "required by law to put wildlife first." That should not have kept the service from finding ways to accommodate tourists and students doing research while protecting the endangered Hawaiian monk seal, nearly 1 million Layson albatrosses -- gooney birds -- and a dozen other species of migratory seabirds.

The end of the program would mean that the Coast Guard could no longer use the atoll as a fueling stop during rescue and law-enforcement operations. Some commercial air routes between the United States and Asia would have to be redrawn, because the Federal Aviation Administration requires that two-engine jets stay within 1,000 miles of an emergency landing spot.

It would mean the cancellation of the company's contract with Aloha Airlines, which flew not only ecotourists but Fish and Wildlife personnel back and forth from Honolulu. No more passenger flights are scheduled from Honolulu to Midway, and Aloha's last Honolulu-bound flight is scheduled March 2, bringing out the last of the 150 Midway Phoenix employees who have been living on the atoll. Even at this late hour, a way should be found to revive the ecotourist venture.

Time to close the door
on DOE storeroom

The issue: A 30-year-old purchasing
system for school supplies has
outlived its usefulness.

The way the state buys, stores and distributes supplies to public schools is a system whose time has come and gone. That the education department admits the program is outdated will likely mean its elimination. It's about time.

The state auditor in 1996 found that the system resulted in waste, excessive ordering and inefficiency. In her latest report, Auditor Marion Higa determined that little changes have been made and the poor purchasing practices continue.

The Department of Education's central storeroom was established 30 years ago to save money by buying supplies in bulk and dispensing them as needed. At the time, the program made sense; Hawaii did not have the "big-box" stores it does now. Supplies at good prices are more readily available today and the system has become, in Higa's words, "a dinosaur."

The auditor further reported that management has failed to keep accurate inventory records. For example, 19 cases of computer paper cannot be unaccounted for. Higa said key personnel do not have the skills, knowledge and background to manage the supplies nor do they know how to store materials properly. That has resulted in damage to products. Sometimes so much of a product is bought that it becomes obsolete, as did $10,000 worth of student report cards that were later shredded into packing material.

The storeroom operation is not so self-sustaining as it was intended. Costs of employee salaries and benefits and the storeroom's lease payments were to come from an 8 percent fee that schools were charged for delivery. However, from July 1997 to June 2001, the storeroom operation lost about $1.6 million.

Teachers complain that the supplies are of poor quality. Even more frustrating is the time it takes for materials to reach the classrooms. Deliveries lag up to eight weeks for schools on the neighbor islands. Minimum orders are required to avoid additional delivery charges, forcing teachers to wait until other materials can be added to shopping lists. Filling out purchase forms is "onerous" and time-consuming, making more work for already busy teachers.

The 23,000-square-foot Waipahu storeroom, which leases for $250,000 a year, is larger than necessary and houses old DOE files as well as damaged supplies. The system clearly has become too cumbersome and costly. Higa recommends -- and the DOE agrees -- that the program be abolished. Legislators should listen.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, Publisher

Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

Richard Halloran, editorial page director, 529-4790;
John Flanagan, contributing editor 294-3533;

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