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April 2000 Planet Main
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The Planet

Hawaii Runways Hit the Skids

by Jenny Coyle

"There was no way we could win. But we did."

The underdog here is Lucienne de Naie who, with the Maui Group and other Hawaii Chapter activists, went up against the most powerful forces in the state to fight the expansion of two airports.

"We were up against the chamber of commerce, the entire tourism industry, all the unions, most elected officials and an army of developers, said de Naie, Environmental Public Education Campaign organizer with the Maui Group.

Activists have been fighting expansion plans for more than 10 years at Kahului Airport on Maui, and for five years at Lihue Airport on Kauai. Political and business leaders decided that bigger airports would mean more visitors, and more visitors would bring more money into local and state coffers.

Last month Gov. Benjamin Cayetano announced he was canceling the plans.

"We have stop-ped major urbanization of agri- cultural land and reduced the threat posed by alien species to native ecosystems and agricultural operations," said de Naie.

She said the final nail in the coffin came when the airline industry realized the plan could lead to higher landing fees.

"But the proposal would probably not have been nixed by the governor without the decade-long battle waged by the Sierra Club and other groups," said de Naie. "After our years of work, public opinion on Maui did not support the 700-acre expansion for Kahului Airport."

Groups that shared the workload and celebrated the victory with the Sierra Club are Maui Malama Pono, Maui Tomorrow, Hui Ala Nui o Makena, the Sprecklesville Community Association and the Hawaii Organic Farming Association.

Among those involved were attorney Isaac Hall and his wife Dana Naone Hall, who devoted hundreds of hours of pro bono work. ("It's too bad this wonder couple can't be cloned for each island," said David Frankel, Hawaii Chapter chair.) The leadership of Sierra Club member Mary Evanson got the Maui Group involved in the first place.

And then the EPEC program, begun in 1998, gave the group a dedicated staff member - de Naie - and a budget. It came at a time when volunteers were growing weary and financial resources thin.

"Our message was everywhere," said de Naie. "We were at the county fair, the local mall, the movie theater. We had full-page ads in newspapers showing the actual airport build-out plan and ran effective radio ads informing citizens about public hearings."

The crowds responded. Hearings were standing room only. Letters to the editor poured in five to one against the expansion project.

"Faced with massive public opposition and mounting project costs and declining state revenues, Gov. Cayetano canceled the airport plan," said de Naie. "It just goes to show that environmental public education works."

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