Friday, April 24, 2015

Hawaii national parks bring in the green, Ige to attend White House dinner for Japanese prime minister, less instruction, more pay for teachers, $14M wasted on computer system, three telescopes to be idled, $50M bond float likely, Oahu pig farm could close, more news from all the Hawaiian Islands

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Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Halemaʻumaʻu caldera © 2015 All Hawaii News
National park service visitation rebounded in 2014 in Hawaii, generating an estimated $417.3 million in economic benefits. Some 5.2 million people, or just over 6 percent more than in 2013, visited Hawaii's seven national parks last year, according to a visitor spending report Thursday by the National Park Service. Star-Advertiser.

More than 5.2 million visitors dished out an estimated $340.5 million around Hawaii’s national parks in 2014, according to a new report by the National Park Service. More than half that money, $175.6 million, was spent on the Big Isle, home to three parks and a historic site. West Hawaii Today.

Gov. David Ige's office says he will represent Hawaii at a White House state dinner honoring Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe next week. President Barack Obama will host the dinner for Abe on Tuesday. Associated Press.

Public schools will no longer be required to tally the number of "instructional" minutes students receive throughout the school year under revisions made to a 2010 law that mandates minimum learning time. Under Senate Bill 822, which Gov. David Ige signed into law Thursday, the term "instructional hours" in Act 167 has been replaced with "student hours," meaning learning time will now apply to any time that students are in school. Star-Advertiser.

A new law gives Hawaii public schools flexibility to create schedules based on the amount of days and hours required for a school year. The union representing Hawaii's public school teachers says Gov. David Ige signed the bill Thursday. Associated Press.

The price tag for the contract covering Hawaii's 13,500 public school teachers has climbed to more than $388 million now that the teachers union has negotiated additional compensation for the remaining two years of the deal. Under the settlement, which the Legislature is expected to approve, teachers will receive a one-time bonus in the fall; a boost to their base salary in two years; more paid professional development training; and a decrease in health insurance costs. Star-Advertiser.

Contract ratification meetings for members of two units of the Hawaii Government Employees Association were suspended by the union Thursday, a development that will delay indefinitely any agreement or raises for about 14,400 state, city and county workers. Star-Advertiser.

Hawaii lawmakers are looking for ways to prop up the state’s financially struggling health exchange, and they’re considering cash from the general fund. All state-run insurance exchanges that are part of the Affordable Care Act must be financially sustainable this year. But the Hawaii Health Connector doesn’t have enough money for its operations. Associated Press.

The state spent $13.88 million on what was dubbed the "FAST" project to replace an out-of-date computer system in the state Highways Division, but the new system still doesn't work, and Gov. David Ige finally stepped in last month to cancel the project. Star-Advertiser.

The state spent $13.88 million on a failed effort to improve the Department of Transportation's financial accounting system, so the state terminated the contract last month, Gov. David Ige said Thursday. Hawaii News Now.

Oahu

A special Senate committee has adopted rules to govern its investigation into whether Sen. Brickwood Galuteria is qualified to serve in the Senate. The committee met briefly Thursday morning and plans to hold another hearing on Monday at 10 a.m. in response to a complaint alleging that Galuteria doesn’t actually live in Kakaako, the district he represents. Civil Beat.

Key state lawmakers in the House still want Oahu's rail tax cut in half if it is to be extended — and they also aim to put an end to any talk of neighbor islands enacting a surcharge to help fund transportation-related projects in their respective counties. Star-Advertiser.

State lawmakers are divided on how best to bail out Honolulu’s over-budget and underfunded commuter rail project that, when completed, will be the nation’s first fully driverless transit system. Civil Beat.

A long-awaited sludge-receiving station at the HPOWER waste-to-energy incineration facility opens next month at Campbell Industrial Park to try to reduce the need for landfill space on Oahu. Mayor Kirk Caldwell and other officials dedicated the $10.6 million injection station Thursday. Star-Advertiser.

The pit at the H-POWER plant has a sliding door that opens and a truck backs in, dumping a mixture of human waste and regular garbage down to the bottom. That nasty mixture is turned into sludge and burned. KITV4.

Shinsato Farm could close if a buyer for its Windward Oahu property can't be found, co-owner Amy Shinsato told Pacific Business News this week. The farm, which has been in business for about 75 years, produces pork that can be found on the menu in many Hawaii restaurants.

A Department of Land and Natural Resources crew on Thursday retrieved a 20-foot skiff from an Oahu shoreline area that may be debris from the March 2011 Japan tsunami. West Hawaii Today.

Some Leeward Oahu residents say a half-million dollar beautification project is compromising the safety of drivers. Concrete barriers are all along the median on Farrington Highway, but there’s about a mile stretch that’s strictly lined with plants. KHON2.

Hawaii

The Hawaii County Council will soon be asked to authorize borrowing as much as $50 million to $60 million in general obligation bonds, as Mayor Billy Kenoi works to finish a list of projects before his term ends late next year. West Hawaii Today.

Decommissioning of as many as three telescopes could be expedited as the University of Hawaii responds to protests from Native Hawaiians over the construction of the largest observatory yet on Mauna Kea. Tribune-Herald.

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs board of trustees decided Thursday to formally reconsider its endorsement of the controversial Thirty Meter Telescope planned for the summit of Mauna Kea. The board, which voted to support the $1.4 billion telescope in 2009, scheduled a special meeting for Thursday. Star-Advertiser.

Battle Over Geothermal Contract Plays Out in Court and at PUC. Critics say they will contest a new geothermal energy deal between Hawaii Electric Light Co. and Ormat, its longtime partner. Civil Beat.

New kayak tour could make Kohala Ditch self-sustaining. West Hawaii Today.

Kona Brewing Co. announced Thursday that it will be expanding and moving its current brewery in Kona to a new, undisclosed location. West Hawaii Today.

The lava lake in Halemaumau at Kilauea’s summit could be visible from the edge of the caldera as early as today if it continues to rise, geologists say. The lake, which rises and falls during periods of inflationary or deflationary tilt, reached new heights Thursday afternoon when it was less than 70 feet from the crater floor, surpassing the last record from October 2012 by more than 2 feet. Tribune-Herald.

Maui

Tourism to Haleakalā National Park in 2014 generated more than $70.3 million in visitor spending and supported 837 jobs in the area, according to new data released by the National Park Service. Maui Now.

Kauai

A Hawaii family donated two perpetual conservation easements on Thursday to the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust. The donation comprises about 40 acres of wetland taro located in Waioli Valley and was given to ensure it remained in its natural state forever. Garden Island.

Hundreds of high school students had their day in court on Thursday, but it wasn’t for anything bad. Instead, the hour-long court proceeding allowed them to see the legal system in action as five state Supreme Court justices took on a longstanding dispute between the County of Kauai and State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers, which represents unionized Kauai Police Department employees. Garden Island.