FAA undermines
ban on aerial ads


An anti-abortion organization is asking a federal judge to declare a city ban on aerial advertising unconstitutional.

THE skies above Honolulu are "owned" by the Federal Aviation Administration. The agency has chosen to make its legal control clear in the most imperious of ways, refusing to observe the city's desire to free the city from the ugly sight of banners dragged by airplanes. Federal legislation may be needed to keep the city's beautiful skies spam-free.

The issue has arisen because an anti-abortion group that wants to display an image of an aborted fetus in the skies over Waikiki is challenging the city ordinance in federal court.

The Outdoor Circle succeeded in 1927 in gaining legislation that forbids billboards in Hawaii, but that ban exists only on the ground. "The use of airspace is in the jurisdiction of the federal government," says FAA spokesman Jerry Snyder. "We're the only ones that authorize aircraft usage in those areas."

No one seriously questions that. However, when the City Council passed an ordinance in 1997 to ban aerial advertising, an FAA handbook said planes flying lower than 1,000 feet must "understand and obey local and state ordinances that may prohibit or restrict banner tow operations." The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals took note of that courtesy in upholding the authority of the Honolulu ordinance in January 2002.

Apparently troubled by the inference that a city or state law could have some bearing in its territory, the FAA rewrote its handbook last October to delete any mention of those laws. "We wanted to make it perfectly clear that the FAA still retained sole authority over airspace," erasing any doubt "as to what our intent is in supporting and maintaining our sovereignty, jurisdiction-wise, over airspace," spokesman Mike Fergus told Star-Bulletin Kokua Line columnist June Watanabe.

Jurisdiction-wise, the FAA has a point. Aesthetics-wise and economy-wise, the agency is provoking anger among residents who not only covet the beauty and serenity of their natural environment but rely greatly on visitors coming to the islands to experience it.

The 9th Circuit recognized that the FAA has jurisdiction and could order pilots to honor the laws of cities and states below. The court did not diminish the FAA's jurisdiction, and the agency should not have felt threatened.

The FAA's recent show of arrogance has given the anti-abortion group the upper hand in its federal lawsuit. If the agency refuses to return to its former policy of observing state and local laws, Congress should direct that it do so.


Looks aside, city
needs sewage plan


Approval of a permit for a big, egg-shaped facility on Sand Island that will convert sewage sludge into fertilizer has been delayed.

CITY Council members concerned about the appearance of a sewage-to-fertilizer facility on Sand Island wisely have delayed their approval until business and community groups are given another chance to weigh in. Although located in an industrial zone not known for scenic views, the plant's 116-foot height will be almost double the area's height limits and its peculiar egg shape quite noticeable.

Visual aspects aside, the structure -- which a city official acknowledges as "an ugly, industrial-looking plant" -- will convert 25,000 tons of sewage sludge a year into fertilizer pellets, whereas now the material is dumped at the space-short Waimanalo Gulch landfill.

As an additional benefit, the contract with the plant's builders, Synagro Technologies, calls for the city to receive a percentage of profits above a certain level from sale of the pellets and for the city to receive for free up to 2,000 tons of the fertilizer.

Synagro, which will bear the $34 million cost of construction, will produce what is called a "class A biosolid" that federal health agencies considered safe as a general fertilizer since pathogens and toxic materials have been purged. The process also will yield methane, which will be used to help power the conversion process.

Councilman Romy Cachola, whose district includes the site where the facility will be built, complained about inadequate public notice. He also repeated an oft-voiced sentiment that the district is the dumping ground for unpopular projects. Be that as it may, the NIMBY card should not be in play since Sand Island is primarily an industrial zone already housing a sewage treatment plant.

Administration officials say public notice requirements already have been met, but a brief postponement won't hurt. Deferral may help the city gather suggestions to disguise or otherwise mitigate the facility's visage. Although he was joking, planning consultant Don Clegg brought up the water tower shaped and painted like a pineapple that graced the city's skyline until 1993 when it was dismantled. "People miss the pineapple," he quipped. He may have hit on an idea.



Oahu Publications, Inc. publishes the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, MidWeek and military newspapers

David Black, Dan Case, Larry Johnson,
Duane Kurisu, Warren Luke, Colbert
Matsumoto, Jeffrey Watanabe,
Frank Teskey, Publisher

Frank Bridgewater, Editor, 529-4791;
Michael Rovner, Assistant Editor, 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, Assistant Editor, 529-4762;

Mary Poole, Editorial Page Editor, 529-4748;

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