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DLNR Targets 'Renegade' Weddings

COVID Unemployment Recovery: Hawaii vs Nevada

HIDOE takes no action on pandemic grievances, citing suspension of collective bargaining law

Retaliation: HPD Threatens Four Officers who Complained About Gerona

HNN: … All four officers have filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, naming Gerona. One of those officers also filed a lawsuit. And all say they are now facing further retaliation.

In an internal email obtained by Hawaii News Now, acting Deputy Chief Lisa Mann notifies other commanders of an order that the four officers be served a 384.

“A 384 is a notification in writing, so basically a warning that you have violated a policy,” Vanic told commissioners, insisting that it is not a form of discipline.

“It’s a notification you broke the rules, and notifying you that if you continue to break the rules, there could be further action against you,” he said.

Critics, however, say it looks like retaliation and intimidation.

“My first response is it’s really concerning,” said Joshua Wisch, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union Hawaii district.

“Seeing the police department essentially doubling down and retaliating against people for speaking out is shocking,” Wisch said.

Attorney Victor Bakke agreed, saying this type of action could mean more damages in a lawsuit.  “Looks like it’s retaliation and that is absolutely the biggest problem for any organization when it comes to this kind of complaints,” he said….

(Translation: HPD wants officers to know that they don’t care about any ramifications of retaliation.  The City will pay for it anyway.)

read … HPD takes action against 4 officers who accused commander of bullying, harassment

COVID Justice: Drug trial delayed again for ex-Hawaii prosecutor Katherine Kealoha’s brother

AP: … Attorneys said during a hearing today they agreed to postpone the trial of Dr. Rudolph Puana from December to March.

According to federal prosecutors, Puana prescribed oxycodone to his friends so that they could sell the pills for easy cash and that some of it funded cocaine parties with the doctor. Puana “strongly disputes the allegations,” his attorney has said.

Puana’s sister, Katherine Kealoha, pleaded guilty in 2019 to using her position as a deputy prosecutor to protect him from a drug-dealing investigation. She entered the plea after a jury found her and her now-estranged husband guilty of conspiracy in a separate case alleging they plotted to frame a relative to keep him from revealing fraud that financed their lavish lifestyle.

She is serving a 13-year prison sentence and her husband Louis Kealoha is serving a seven-year sentence.

At an earlier hearing on Tuesday, U.S. Judge J. Michael Seabright said he’s not inclined to inform potential jurors about Puana’s relationship to the Kealoha case.

An assistant U.S. attorney and Puana’s defense attorney agreed, saying knowledge of the relationship could taint the jury pool.

The trial had already been postponed previously to December because of concerns masks worn to prevent the spread of COVID-19 would make it difficult to select a fair jury without lawyers being able see potential jurors’ facial expressions.

It’s being postponed again because of the pandemic’s uncertainty. Puana’s attorney, F. Clinton Broden, said he wouldn’t want his client to spend money getting witnesses to Hawaii only for pandemic conditions to force plans to change….

read … Drug trial delayed again for ex-Hawaii prosecutor Katherine Kealoha’s brother

Closing arguments heard in toddler murder trial

HTH: … Deputy Public Defender James Greenberg called Kenneth Monson, an assistant professor of biomechanics at the University of Utah. Monson testified against the theory that Garett-Garcia’s injuries could not have been caused by a short fall. He said although rare, toddlers can suffer serious traumatic brain injuries from short falls.

Based on the review of all the evidence, Alcosiba-McKenzie’s version of the chain of events and factoring in acceleration and velocity at time of impact, the fall could have caused the injuries that caused the toddler’s death.

Upon cross-examination by Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Stephen Frye, Monson testified the fall could not have caused all the bruising he observed on the photos, and children “usually do not fall in a manner that the head takes all the energy.”

Monson also testified he had no opinion on how Garett-Garcia’s injuries were sustained, however, he opined the injuries could have come from a short fall.

The prosecution presented rebuttal witness Dr. Randell Alexander, a professor of pediatrics and pediatric child abuse at the University of Florida.

Alexander testified that after reviewing all of the evidence in the case he concluded that “this was a fatal physical abuse case.”

He contended based on his findings, Garett-Garcia would have had immediate problems resulting in death, contrary to Alcosiba-McKenzie’s version of the chain of events….

Alcosiba-McKenzie had reported the toddler fell from an 18-inch bench while wearing virtual reality glasses and did not exhibit symptoms other than vomiting until she found him unresponsive hours later. She contended his sister had a flu previously, exhibiting the same symptoms, so she thought he was coming down with the same thing….

Meanwhile, a wrongful death lawsuit filed in April 2019 by Garett-Garcia’s parents Sherri-Ann Garett and Juben Garcia against the state Department of Human Services, Catholic Charities, state-licensed caregivers Chasity Alcosiba-McKenzie and Clifton McKenzie and others, continues….

read … Closing arguments heard in toddler murder trial

‘Enough is enough’: Live events industry wants gathering restrictions eased (now)

HNN: … At a rally at the state Capitol building on Thursday, industry professionals called on government to relax the restrictions that have prevented a number of events including business meetings, concerts, and conventions and they are hoping this is the final time they have to demonstrate.

“I don’t typically protest, but it’s gone too far,” said Kalani Rodrigues, vice president of Hawaii Stage and Lighting Rentals.

“Enough is enough. Structured events can happen safely. There’s no reason that this can’t happen.”

Rodrigues said his business lost millions of dollars in revenue due to canceled events.

“Most of the benefits have run out,” added Heather Bailey, vice president of MC&A events company. “People who were on furlough for 18 months and counting have no safety net left. Our people just want to be out there and they want to work. They want to be part of the economy.”

It’s an industry with long planning timelines, which organizers say are undermined by uncertainty from changing and confusing rules and regulations.

“It makes it very difficult, especially in the corporate market, when you have people planning events and coming her from all over the world,” Bailey said. “The stop, the start, it makes it very difficult for them to count on Hawaii as a destination.”…

“It makes absolutely no sense to have schools open, to have restaurants and bars open where people can go in and take off theirs masks in groups of 10, but you can’t have people who have higher standards that’ll remain masked in an outdoor stadium,” Rodrigues said….

read … ‘Enough is enough’: Live events industry wants gathering restrictions eased (now)

Hospital bills soar for COVID cases

SA Editorial:  … Listen to Oahu resident Aaron Mikami, in his mid-30s, who spoke to reporters earlier this year about his COVID-19 ordeal, which left him in a three-day coma and hospitalized for two weeks. “It was a little over $200,000,” he told KHON-2 News about that medical bill — which didn’t even include post-hospital recovery and therapy.

Luckily for Mikami and the many other survivors here, out-of-pocket medical expenses related to COVID-19 are being waived during this public-health emergency. Still, wellness is hitting wallets — and someone’s got to pay for all this expensive medical intervention. Covering prolonged COVID-19 care means more costs borne by everyone.

Hospitals billed private insurers an average of $317,810 for a complex COVID-19 hospitalization, according to recent data from FAIR Health, a nonprofit tracking national care costs. Insurers paid out an average $98,139 on those claims, which involved intense care such as ICU stays or ventilator use, the organization said last month. Meanwhile, less-serious hospitalizations for COVID-19 averaged $74,591 in charges, and $33,525 in insurer payouts, noted FAIR Health.

Those findings reveal the stunning level of care needed per severely ill COVID-19 patient. Further compounding concern over costly COVID-19 care: Another report last month estimated that vaccinations could have prevented some 287,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations from June through August. That would have saved some $5 billion in health care costs, the Peterson Center-Kaiser Family Foundation report found — and even that figure is now considered low, as it was based on a conservative $20,000 average per hospitalization….

read …  Hospital bills soar for COVID cases

Proposal before Maui council would phase out thousands of short-term rentals

HNN: … The Maui County Council is considering phasing out all short-term rentals in apartment districts on the island.

“We have way too many tourists for our infrastructure to handle and we’re trying to stabilize the situation,” said West Maui Councilwoman Tamara Paltin.

If Paltin’s proposal passes, it would affect more than 7,000 vacation rentals on the Valley Isle.

“It was actually a hotel’s commitment to workforce housing that eventually converted to short-term rental usage,” Paltin said. “So that’s a lot of our problem, too. These units that were meant as workforce housing converting to short-term rentals.” …

Jack Nicoletti is a Realtor on Maui who works with many vacation rental owners. He says it doesn’t make sense financially.

“The property we owned, when we first bought it, we weren’t residents here, and I was paying almost $6,000 a year in property tax. I’ve been a resident here now for a little over three years and it’s our primary residence, and I’m paying less than $1,200,” Nicoletti said.

“The maintenance fees that we pay alone in these condos are $900, $800, $1,000, $1,100 a month ... how can that become affordable housing for somebody?” ….

read … Proposal before Maui council would phase out thousands of short-term rentals

Oahu’s solar battery program to boost clean energy stymied by Corrupt, Inefficient DPP

SA: … Solar companies said phones have been ringing, and customers have been interested in purchasing solar-battery systems, but the program is coming up against a significant hurdle.

The hitch? Slow processing of required permits by the Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting.

“There’s been tons of interest,” said Brian Gold, president of the Hawaii Solar Energy Association. “The industry would be twice as busy if DPP was operating in a more streamlined manner.”

To apply for the program, Hawaiian Electric requires solar contractors to secure a building permit from DPP, which will determine the final incentive amount, the utility said.

As of Sept. 30, Hawaiian Electric said it had received 334 applications for the “Battery Bonus” program. Of those, 143 have been approved for installation, while the rest are in various stages of review.

This is up from just 31 applications approved at the end of August, when the program was getting off the ground….

read … Oahu’s solar battery program to boost clean energy stymied by permitting system

Hu Honua Tree Burning Plant to Eliminate Wind, Solar--Add $164 to Your Electric Bill

IM: … With the addition of Hu Honua, why does HELCO continue to show wind, solar and BESS [Battery Energy Storage Systems] units in its resource plan? Why can’t Hu Honua replace these units as it provides the same firm unit capabilities of HELCO’s generating units?

Would you agree that HRS §269-27.3 allows for preferential rates for the purchase of renewable energy produced in conjunction with agricultural activities and that this is what the legislature intended?

HELCO concludes that the “Project may increase customer bills over the Project’s PPA term” and that “[a]verage monthly typical customer bill increases over the duration of the Project’s PPA are $13.69.”…

read … Hu Honua Questions HELCO re proposed Power Purchase Agreement

AES Tree-Burning ‘BioMass’ to Replace Coal with Something Worse

IM: … AES is considering converting their Hawai`i coal plant to a tree-burning electricity generator. Burning wood produces more greenhouse gases and toxic air emissions per kilowatt-hour of electricity generated than burning coal.

Some state legislators are hot on this idea. As the issue heats up, AES produced a slick greenwashing video of their controversial Na Pua Makani wind farm in Kahuku.

AES submitted a letter to the Public Utilities Commission on June 16, 2021.

“AES Hawaii, LLC was recently approached by Mr. Scott Glenn, Chief Energy Officer of the Hawaii State Energy Office and Chair of the Powering Past Coal Task Force, regarding ... the feasibility of converting the AES BP plant to operate using renewable biomass. ... AES and Hawaiian Electric had previously explored this option in 2018 and AES has revisited the expected costs to operate on biomass. AES is willing to more fully explore such an option should the Commission and the State Energy Office desire to rely less on fossil fuel oil to charge the KES standalone and instead rely on renewable biomass.”

The Hawaii State Energy Office (HSEO) raised the issue as part of its due diligence as reliability concerns arouse surrounding the closure of the AES coal plant and the delay in bringing solar projects on line. The HSEO no longer believes that biomass should be on the table.

Rick Rocheleau, director of the Hawai'i Natural Energy Institute (HNEI), made a presentation before the State House and Senate on September 29, 2021. Rocheleau has a deep engineering background and minimal understanding of life cycle greenhouse gas emissions. He asserted that from a purely engineering background, an AES biomass plant could provide electricity to HECO from 2024-30.

To enable AES to sell wood-based electricity to HECO by 2024 would require a Herculean effort. The first step would require that AES and HECO sign a Power Purchase Agreement and then for HECO to submit the contract to the Public Utilities Commission for approval. Motions to intervene would follow….

read … AES Produces Greenwashing Film

Navy Denied Activists an Issue to Exploit

CB: … It was the end of January, just days before the U.S. Navy was set to appear in a hearing before the Hawaii Department of Health that would determine the fate of its Red Hill underground fuel facility.

A particularly inconvenient time for a leak.

And yet, an oil sheen in the water of Pearl Harbor had been growing since March 2020, and a nearby pipeline connected to the Red Hill facility had just failed a leak detection test. 

In a Jan. 21 email, a Navy captain said he was worried about the optics.

So-called “historical” releases, such as from fuel-soaked soil near Pearl Harbor, were one thing. But an active leak from an in-use pipeline would reflect poorly on the Navy at a crucial moment.

“There are significant political concerns if this were to become an ‘active’ leak,” he wrote. “Activist organizations will use this to advance their anti-Red Hill narrative … at a sensitive time as the contested case hearing begins and (the) legislative season starts.”…

“It’s an outrage. It makes my blood boil,” said Marti Townsend, the Sierra Club’s executive director. …

read … Amid ‘Political Concerns,’ Navy Kept Quiet About Red Hill Pipeline Leaking Into Pearl Harbor

Will the state of Hawaii be assigned to take in Afghanistan Refugees?

KHON: … Terrina Wong works with the Pacific Gateway Center to help immigrants that get assigned to the state of Hawaii. Pacific Gateway Center is a non-profit organization whose mission is to empower immigrants, refugees and low-income in building skills.

Wong said they have always been in contact with the state about potentially receiving Afghanistan refugees.

“When we were advised of the evacuation, there was a meeting nationally, and we were told that Afghan refugees or parolees would be assigned to refugee resettlement agencies throughout the United States,” Wong explained.

Wong said the state would have had to agree to be able to receive and financially support a minimum of 100 Afghanistan parolees, along with having access to agencies across multiple sights.

“So, naturally that automatically eliminated Hawaii,” Wong added. “We weren’t eligible at all when the call went out for refugee resettlement of Afghan refugees.” ….

read … Will the state of Hawaii be assigned to take in Afghanistan Refugees?

City’s new crisis outreach team aims to take strain off hospitals, first responders

HNN: … CORE or Honolulu’s Crisis Outreach Response and Engagement Program ― and it’s set to launch later this month.

“We’re going to start between downtown and Waikiki. But ultimately this is going to expand island-wide.”

Refurbished ambulances will be staffed with a pair of emergency medical technicians and a community health worker who has been specially trained to work with the homeless.

It will run up to 12 hours a day.

Patients who need medical treatment but don’t need the emergency room will be taken to clinics like the Punawai Rest Stop for care.

One of the biggest differences between traditional EMS and the CORE program is that when a person is done receiving medical treatment a team will be there to pick them up and take them to a shelter.

“When a person is in crisis they may be at an ‘aha’ moment. Or they’re at a moment where you can build trust with them,” said Anton Crucky, head of the city’s Office of Housing….

read … City’s new crisis outreach team aims to take strain off hospitals, first responders

COVID Cash: Nonprofit Will Use Grant To Create Savings Accounts For Native Hawaiian Families

CB: … A nonprofit serving Native Hawaiian children and their families through educational and social service initiatives will launch a new savings program in partnership with a bank to help families build financial security using a $2.5 million grant under the federal American Rescue Plan.

Hawaii’s Partners in Development Foundation was among the nearly two dozen beneficiaries of a combined $28.1 million in federal grants under the Native Hawaiian Education Program announced by U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz’s office last month.

PIDF said in a news release Thursday it will use its grant to create and manage up to 800 savings accounts for children enrolled in programs it oversees — such as Tutu and Me preschool, Ka Paʻalana Homeless Family Education and Na Pono No Na Ohana Family Education in Waimanalo, in partnership with American Savings Bank. Families involved in early education programs run by the nonprofit INPEACE will also be eligible to enroll.

Together, these programs serve close to 6,500 individuals….

read … COVID Cash

Wildfire Burned 1% of Hawaii Land Area

CB: … The Sept. 27 fire that swept through the former homeless encampment in Poamoho destroyed 50 acres of state agriculture land and poisoned the future of healthy vegetation.

Wildfires like the one that raced through Poamoho are increasing in frequency and size across the state, according to Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization director Elizabeth Pickett.

Approximately 20,000 acres of land burn every year in Hawaii, a 2018 state wildfire risk assessment found. However, this summer the Mana Road fire on Hawaii island burned twice as much as the annual average, scorching over 42,000 acres — about a tenth of the total size of Oahu.

So far, the Honolulu Fire Department recorded 355 wildland fires that burned a total of 315 acres this year on Oahu.

“We are a fire-prone state,” Pickett said. “We are right up in there with all the western U.S. mainland states that have a huge fire problem — Hawaii statistics match right up with them.”

University of Hawaii wildland fire researcher Clay Trauernicht said the Mana Road fire destroyed about 1% of the state’s land area while the average number of fires that occur in one year in California account for about 0.7% of its land area….

read … Hawaii Is Prone To Fire But State Money To Control The Problem Is Lacking

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