Category Archives: Government

DOT Turns Over Palekai to Youth Education Group

On Monday, the Hawai‘i State Department of Transportation signed over about four acres of land at Keaukaha’s Palekai, formerly known as Radio Bay, to the non-profit group Keaukaha One Youth Development.

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The 12-month revocable permit will allow Keahi Warfield and others in the community, including Patrick Kahawaiola‘a, president of the Keaukaha Community Association, to spearhead a community project to restore the double-hulled navigating canoe Hokualaka‘i.

Palekai

The terms of the revokable permit are for twelve months, and then the Harbors Divison has the option to extend for an additional 30 calendar days. Extensions beyond the 30 days will require Land Board Approval.

It was a beautiful, breezy sunny day when the signing ceremony took place, outside next to the bay. Hokualaka‘i was on one side of the gathering and Mauna Kea was a backdrop across the bay on the other. Community members, legislators and employees from the Department of Transportation were present.

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Keahi Warfield, who runs a children’s after-school program there on the site, said Keaukaha is an ocean community, and the purpose of the non-profit is to ensure children understand ocean activities.

Hawai‘i State Senator Lorraine Inouye spoke about the transfer of Palekai being unusual and a special day for the community.

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“Rarely do you see this kind of transfer happen between the state and a community,” she said. “It’s nice to know agencies and the state respond to a community’s request.”

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Kahawaiola‘a spoke too, calling it a momentous occasion and a first. “We will have to live up to the example so more partnerships like this can be made throughout the State.”

They will, he said. “We are fierce Keaukaha people. We will work hard and we will show you what we can do.”

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GMOs Are Safe & We Need National Labeling Standard, Says Senate Committee

At a public hearing held Wednesday in Washington, D.C., Senators from both parties spoke about the “overwhelming scientific consensus regarding GMO safety,” and about the urgent need for Congress to pass a nationwide solution that prevents a “state-by-state patchwork of labeling laws” that has poor consequences for farmers, businesses, and consumers.

From the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food:

In a major step towards passage of a uniform, national labeling standard for foods made with genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing today that showcased the overwhelming scientific consensus regarding GMO safety, as well as the urgent need for Congressional action to pass a reasonable, common-sense solution that prevents a state-by-state patchwork of labeling laws.

“Today’s hearing confirmed that GMOs are safe; a state-by-state patchwork of labeling laws will have dire consequences for farmers, businesses and consumers; and the urgency for Congress to prevent these problems by passing a uniform national law,” said CFSAF spokesperson Claire Parker.

Senators from both parties spoke to the importance and safety of biotechnology and the need for a single national food labeling standard. Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) began the hearing by stating that “agriculture biotechnology has become a valuable tool in ensuring the success of the American farmer in meeting the challenge of increasing yield in a more efficient, safe, and responsible manner.”

Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) declared “I share the concern of doing business if 50 different states have 50 different standards and quite frankly, it wont work.” Senator Stabenow also said she hopes the Senate can “work together to develop a bipartisan bill that can pass the Senate by the end of this year.”

Wednesday’s hearing began with a panel of experts from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency, and the Food and Drug Administration offering testimony that reaffirmed the safety of GMOs.

Dr. Susan Mayne, director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, stated that “over the last 20 years, FDA has reviewed and evaluated data and information on more than 150 GE plant-derived foods…based on our evaluations, we are confident that foods from genetically engineered sources in the U.S. marketplace today are as safe as their conventional counterparts.”

Michael Gregoire, the associate administrator of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, added, “we have great confidence in the safety of GE crops that have been approved under the current U.S. regulatory system.”

Following three hearings in the U.S. House of Representatives, this is the fourth time in the past 12 months where expert witnesses have confirmed the science and safety of biotechnology.

The Senate hearing comes less than ten months from the July 1 effective date of Vermont’s labeling mandate, which will be the first state to implement its own unique food labeling standard. Though Vermont’s law is currently being challenged in federal court, there is little chance of a judicial resolution in time to prevent the negative impacts of the misguided statute.

Joanna Lidback, a dairy farmer from Barton, Vermont, provided a first-hand account of the severe consequences that will ensue should Vermont’s law take effect next year. “The use of biotechnology on our farm is also important to the economic sustainability of our small business by keeping the price we pay for feed affordable,” said Lidback. “To compare prices, a non-GMO basic 20 percent protein complete feed would cost $555 per ton; the same conventional feed that we purchase is currently $305 per ton…a difference of $4,000 a month or $48,000 per year. I do not see how we could profitably farm in the long term with those increased costs, thus effectively pushing my small farm out of business.”

Daryl Thomas, executive vice president of Herr’s Snacks, testified that a patchwork of state labeling laws will cost his company more, likely leading to higher prices for consumers. “Absent a federal solution by July 2016 when Vermont’s law takes effect, manufacturers will have three options to comply: 1) redesign packaging, 2) reformulate products so that no label is required, or 3) halt sales to that state,” said Thomas. “While we have not made a final decision, we are considering several factors that will make it difficult to continue sales in Vermont. One factor is the ability of our distributor chain to segregate product for Vermont since it is the food manufacturer who is liable if mislabeled products make it onto store shelves. We recently received a note from the largest grocery wholesaler in the nation. The letter informed us that they ‘will not take additional steps to segregate or otherwise specifically direct the shipment of Vermont only products into Vermont.’”

“Discussions about mandatory GMO labeling laws reducing consumer choice are becoming much less theoretical and much more real,” Thomas continued. “If the number of products on store shelves decreases, not only will consumers lose choices, but the lack of choice and competition could drive up costs. For some households that cost might be easily absorbed. For others it could be significantly more difficult.”

It it increasingly clear that a bipartisan solution is attainable. In July, the House of Representatives passed its own bill that creates a single, national labeling standard, as well as a GMO-free certification program that assures consumers who prefer to purchase non-GMO foods have a consistent, transparent means of identifying those products. That legislation passed by a 275-150 vote with support of 45 Democrats. Today’s hearing provided plenty of evidence that similar bipartisan compromise is within reach in the Senate.

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It’s Time to Speak Up in Support of TMT

It is time. We need to speak up in support of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) now.

There are two easy ways to do this:

1) Please take this very quick, five-question OHA survey. It will literally only take you a minute or two.

2) In addition to the survey, we all need to speak up and tell OHA that we support the TMT. We cannot be afraid or intimidated to testify. There’s been too much of that, and there is too much at stake not to speak up.

Please email the OHA trustees before their meeting this Thursday, 4/30/15, and let them know, in your own words, that you support the TMT.

For your convenience, here are their email addresses:

robertl@oha.org, colettem@oha.org, petera@oha.org, reynoldf@oha.org, rowenaa@oha.org, crayna@oha.org, hulul@oha.org, dana@oha.org, leia@oha.org

For your own information, here is some good background about the TMT. The first offers clear, accurate, and easy-to-understand questions and answers about the TMT, and the second is a timeline showing the entire TMT process from 2008 to today:

Thank you for speaking up in support of the TMT by this Thursday. We who support the TMT haven’t been speaking out, but we need to. It’s time.
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Submit Your Testimony in Support of Local Electric Utility Ownership

Richard Ha writes:

If you'd like to submit testimony re: Rep. Lowen's resolution re: local ownership and control of electric utilities, follow this link. It's being heard Monday, and any testimony has to be received 24 hours in advance, which means by Sunday afternoon.

Kaua‘i Island Utility Co-op (KIUC) is a successful example of an alternative utility ownership model. Each person or entity with an electric meter has one vote, and those votes elect the board of directors, which guides the co-op's direction. Profits are retained internally and any excess is distributed to the folks with an electric meter.

Instead of being, say, merely one lonely utility in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, a co-op such as KIUC is part of a large network of 900 such electricity co-ops throughout the nation. These co-ops have a network that provides help to the individual co-ops, and the co-op network owns its own finance company, too, with assets of more than $26 billion.

Most important, the dreams and aspirations of the owner of the co-op are the dreams and aspirations of the local people–everybody with electric meters.

Submit any testimony at the "submit testimony" link on this page, but it needs to go in before Sunday afternoon.

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Support for New ‘Safe & Accurate Food Labeling Act’

Richard Ha writes:

This is very interesting. The Safe & Accurate Food Labeling Act was just introduced, which would establish a federal labeling standard for food and beverage products made with genetically modified ingredients GMOs).

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) just issued a very positive response to this federal labeling standard, as did the American Farm Bureau Federation. I’m including both below, and I agree completely with both of them.

Both praise the new act and agree that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should be the entity to govern this policy, as opposed to a patchwork of state and local laws throughout the country. It’s the FDA that has the expertise: the people, the labs, the backing of all the major science organizations. The FDA is the organization that monitors for food safety.

This is exactly the kind of thing we’ve been talking about on the Department of Agriculture’s Fruit and Vegetable Industry advisory committee.

I am very glad to see we are all in agreement.       

March 25, 2015

GMA Praises Introduction of National Food Labeling Bill

WASHINGTON, DC – Pamela G. Bailey, president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, issued the following statement in response to the introduction today of The Safe & Accurate Food Labeling Act by U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) and U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) to establish a federal labeling standard for food and beverage products made with genetically modified ingredients (GMOs):

“No matter where they live or shop, all Americans deserve to have access to consistent, understandable information about the food they are eating, and this federal 
legislation would eliminate consumer uncertainty created by a state-by-state patchwork of labeling laws, advance food safety, inform consumers and provide consistency in labeling.

“The entire purpose of food labeling is to provide consumers throughout our nation with clear and consistent information. Congress must pass a bipartisan bill this year to ensure Americans continue to have access to consistent FDA-approved and science-based standards for food labeling.

“It’s important to know that this technology has been around for the past 20 years, and today, 70-80 percent of the foods we eat in the United States contain ingredients that have been genetically modified.

“The overwhelming scientific consensus is that GMO ingredients are as safe as any other food. The Food and Drug Administration and major scientific and health organizations such as the American Medical Association, National Academy of Sciences and World Health Organization all have found GMOs are safe for humans and positive for the environment. More than 2,000 studies show a clear consensus among the world’s leading scientific organizations that GMO ingredients are safe.

“A single federal labeling standard for non-GMO and GMOs that is based on science would ensure that America’s farmers and food manufacturers work under a uniform standard across all 50 states and that consumers receive uniform, consistent information on GMOs. The alternative – a patchwork of state and local food laws across the country with different labeling mandates and requirements – will create confusion, cause significant new costs for Americans, and lead to critical problems for our nation’s grocery supply chain.

“A federal law is needed that keeps the authority to set safe, reasonable and national labeling requirements regarding GMOs with U.S. government agencies that have decades of scientific and regulatory expertise in this area. The Grocery Manufacturers Association strongly supports this legislation, and urges the House and Senate to adopt this national standard for science-based food labeling.”

Based in Washington, D.C., the Grocery Manufacturers Association is the voice of more than 300 leading food, beverage and consumer product companies that sustain and enhance the quality of life for hundreds of millions of people in the United States and around the globe. 

Founded in 1908, GMA is an active, vocal advocate for its member companies and a trusted source of information about the industry and the products consumers rely on and enjoy every day.  The association and its member companies are committed to meeting the needs of consumers through product innovation, responsible business practices and effective public policy solutions developed through a genuine partnership with policymakers and other stakeholders. 

In keeping with its founding principles, GMA helps its members produce safe products through a strong and ongoing commitment to scientific research, testing and evaluation and to providing consumers with the products, tools and information they need to achieve a healthy diet and an active lifestyle.  The food, beverage and consumer packaged goods industry in the United States generates sales of $2.1 trillion annually, employs 14 million workers and contributes $1 trillion in added value to the economy every year.

***

American Farm Bureau Federation

Statement by Bob Stallman, President, American Farm Bureau Federation, Regarding the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 25, 2015 – “State-led mandatory food labeling initiatives mislead consumers about the safety of GM foods, even though there is no credible evidence linking a food-safety or health risk to the consumption of GM foods. These state labeling initiatives mask the benefits of biotechnology in food production and can lead to decreased food supplies. Creating a national labeling standard will give consumers the information they need while avoiding the unnecessary confusion and added cost of a patchwork of state laws.

“The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 would clarify the FDA as the nation’s foremost authority on food safety and create a voluntary labeling program run by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, the same agency that administers the USDA Organic Program. We applaud the bipartisan leadership of Reps. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) and G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) in reintroducing this bill.

“Consumers have a right to know what’s in their food, but they shouldn’t be misinformed about what’s safe, or forced to pay higher prices unnecessarily. Thanks to innovation, farmers and ranchers have new and improved methods to increase their efficiency while preserving farm land for generations to come. Farmers benefit from choice and so should consumers.”

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An Interview & Also a Visit to a Co-op Finance Corporation

Richard Ha writes:

Henry Curtis of Ililani Media recently interviewed me about the energy co-op. He asked me, “Why a co-op?”

Here’s the interview:

Richard Ha owns Hamakua Springs Country Farms, served as Board Chairman of Ku`oko`a Inc., the entity which sought to buy the HECO Companies, a member of the business-based Big Island Community Coalition (BICC) which seeks lower electric rates, and a partner in the Hawaii Island Energy Cooperative (HIEC) which was granted party status in the Public Utilities Commission’s HECO-NextEra's Merger proceeding. HIEC is represented in the docket by three McCorriston Miller Mukai MacKinnon LLP attorneys: David Minkin, Brian Hirai and Peter Hamasaki….

Read the rest

Also, a couple weeks ago I visited the national headquarters of the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation (CFC) in Virginia. There is a strong national association of 900 utility co-ops that exists to help its members, and it owns that finance company, the CFC, which has assets of $26 billion and is a non-profit, so it pays no taxes.

I met with the CFC's senior staff and briefed them about our attempt to be ready should an opportunity arise that allows us to present a credible offer to purchase Hawaii Electric Light (HELCO) and convert it to an energy cooperative.

They told me their resources are at our disposal.

It was very eye-opening to see that we are not alone. It hit me that ours would not be a small, stand-alone co-op, but one of 900 utility co-ops in the nation, with all the ancillary services that comes with that. The technical expertise we would be able to call upon is huge – exponentially greater than what we would have access to as a stand-alone co-op, out here in the middle of the Pacific.

Back on Dec 21st, I wrote about when a group of Big Island community people organized a briefing by David Bissell, the CEO of Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC) and Dennis Esaki, one of the original founders of KIUC.

Subsequently, we formed a steering committee to investigate the possibility of creating an energy cooperative for the Big Island. That was three months ago. Since then, we registered the co-op, obtained the services of a law firm, and asked the PUC to let us participate in the docket involving the merger request of NextEra and HEI/HECO. Our request was approved.

We have set up a website with information about our efforts, the folks involved, a press release, news articles, and a place for folks to sign up if they want to help us in our efforts.

A co-op is about all of us, not just a few of us. It’s run by a board of directors that is elected by its members. Each member has one vote. Excess revenues are returned to the members in proportion to their usage. 

We are not alone. 

This morning I saw that State Rep. Nicole Lowen just introduced HR105 expressing support of "further discussion of the possibility of local ownership and control of electric utilities."

I will write more as we move forward.

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Planning Your Fruits & Vegetables

Richard Ha writes:

I’ve been meeting in Washington, D.C. as a member of the Department of Agriculture’s Fruit and Vegetable Industry advisory committee, which was reconstituted this past year. Twenty five of us were appointed to advise the Secretary of Agriculture on issues that are important to the nation’s fruit and vegetable growers.

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We broke down into various subject committees last year and there were several meetings throughout the year to determine what the most important issues are at present. This meeting was to decide which issues we would send on to the Secretary of Agriculture and recommend for action.

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Some of the issues are: labor availability, food safety, regionally adapted plant breeding programs, backlogs of container cargo at West Coast ports, citrus greening and appropriate timely reactions to important plant diseases, and GMO labeling.

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Next on our agenda is to develop recommendations for each subject area.

This last photo was just for fun:

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Advocating for Agricultural Policy in Washington D.C.

Richard Ha writes:

I’m in Washington, D.C. for a joint meeting of CARET representatives (I’m the Hawai‘i representative for the Council on Agriculture, Research, Extension and Teaching) and the Administration Heads Section, which consists of the deans of the nation’s Land-Grant Colleges. This is my second year as Hawai‘i’s CARET representative and I’m getting my feet on the ground.

The University of Hawai‘i is a Land-Grant College, and the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR) is its agriculture component.

A land-grant college or unversity is an institution that has been designated by its state legislature or Congress to receive the benefits of the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890. The original mission of these institutions, as set forth in the first Morrill Act, was to teach agriculture, military tactics, and the mechanic arts as well as classical studies so that members of the working classes could obtain a liberal, practical education. 

Before the Morrill Acts, only rich people could get a university degree. It is significant that President Lincoln signed the act into law. The Land Grant Colleges helped make the U.S. the premier agriculture nation in the world.

I’m happy to help promote the agriculture mission of CTAHR. CTAHR programs were very helpful in our farm being successful for so many years, and I have tremendous respect for the men and women in CTAHR’s programs.

After three days of meetings to discuss and strategize which specific programs of the Land-Grant Colleges we will lend support to, each CARET representative will go see his or her own congressional delegation.

Our situation is a little unusual because our state is so small and we actually know all four of our representatives and senators. My pockets are full. I brought mac nuts and coffee and I’ve been sharing it around with people. You know, aloha spirit. It’s what we do. I think I got them trained already.

There’s snow here!

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National Policy: Supporting Conventional Plant Breeding Programs

Richard Ha writes:

I am on the USDA Fruit and Vegetable Industry Advisory Committee (FVIAC), which advises the Secretary of Agriculture on issues affecting the Fruit and Vegetable Industry. When we broke out into subcommittees last year, I went onto the grant and research committee.

I want to tell you about one of the issues our subcommittee is talking about, and going to be recommending, because I think it’s significant.

It has to do with the huge decline in conventional plant breeding programs at the country’s Land Grant Colleges. The huge outcry we are seeing now against large seed companies is a protest against a system that is way out of balance. We need to support conventional plant breeding programs, and we are going to recommend this.

It is cheaper and science has come a long way. We have mapped certain plants and we know the characteristics of certain genes now. We have the techniques now to look at seedlings to see if they have desired genes and to select for them at that young stage. This is still conventional breeding, and it saves time and money.

The whole FVIAC meets in a couple of weeks and we will be making national policy suggestions, including on this topic.

You can read more about this below.

Key findings related state-level research on development of regionally adapted and public fruit & vegetable cultivars from the Proceedings of 2014 Summit on Seeds and Breeds for 21st Century Agriculture (2014: Washington DC):

State Breeding Programs are Starved for Resources and Breeders

33% decline in the number of plant breeders in US from 1994-2001; Only eight universities graduated at least seven students in plant breeding per year between 1995 and 2000

Between 1990 and 2010 membership in the Breeder and Plant Physiologist divisions of the Crop Science Society of America dropped 56%

State funding for breeding research has followed federal trend of sharp reductions in public plant breeding

Universities have greatly curtailed investment in public breeding, and are increasingly steering royalty payments to general funds instead of back into breeding programs

Very few universities have even one whole plant physiologist who has the resources to interact with breeders in germplasm identification and enhancement

Budget cuts at land grant universities have resulted in more and more technicians reliant on ‘soft money’ funding that is highly variable and incompatible with the development and maintenance of long-term breeding programs

At most institutions, the value of a program is measured by the value of the overhead monies generated, not by whether it is important and/or productive

Among vegetable crops, only potatoes, tomatoes, cucurbits (and all types combined), berries (all types combined) and tree nuts (all types combined) have more than two programs developing cultivars; carrots, celery, table beets, watermelons, sweet potatoes and sweet corn have only one each

Most produce crops lack significant state check-off programs to fund public breeding programs due to the fragmented nature of horticultural production

Private Classical and Transgenic Breeding Programs Are Not Picking Up the Slack

Private breeding programs remain important in the specialty crop industry, but increasing concentration in the specialty crop seed business has resulted in discontinuation of many lines as larger companies seek economies of scale

The small size of regional specialty crop markets makes them less attractive for significant private breeding programs by large seed companies

Public Cultivar Development is Economically More Efficient

Transgenic variety development typically costs $50 million per released variety, compared to $1 million for a public cultivar

 Recommendations

1. Develop a comprehensive national plan to restore funding and institutional capacity for the development of public plant and animal varieties.

2. Encourage and reward agro-biodiversity on farms and in our commercial seed choices in order to increase resilience against shifting and unpredictable climatic conditions.

3. Address the negative impacts of consolidation and concentration in the ownership of seeds by empowering farmers to save and own seeds and encouraging more independent regional seed companies.

4. Increase farmer and researcher access to innovation in the development of elite cultivars, and confront the negative impacts of utility patents and restrictive licenses.

5. Increase the number of public cultivar developers in each of the seven US climatic regions with a focus on renewing institutional capacity to support future public plant breeders.

6. Create new, innovative partnerships and models to address regionalized and participatory approaches to public cultivar development.

7. Strengthen and democratize public germplasm collection systems and address germplasm access and sharing at an international level.

8. Commit adequate resources to determine critically missing data, budgets and baseline information to better articulate both the challenges and the solutions ahead.

9. Build greater public awareness of the importance of public cultivar development by expanding regional communities of seed advocates and identifying on-the-ground regional priorities and challenges to ensure that solutions meet the needs of stakeholders in each region.

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Mina Morita of the PUC is a True Consumer Advocate

Richard Ha writes:

Mina Morita is resigning from her position on the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission, Governor David Ige’s office yesterday.

After noting “many in the energy industry had applauded [then-Governor Neil] Abercrombie’s appointment of Morita, who is known as a strong advocate and expert on clean energy,” Pacific Business News wrote:

But some questioned her leadership in a PUC decision denying the Aina Koa Pono project’s 20-year Big Island biofuel supply contract with Hawaii Electric Light Co.

I can’t let that slide.

We in the Big Island Community Coalition applaud her leadership. We do not question her leadership in the slightest, and we regret that she is resigning.

It is because of Mina Morita’s leadership that the Aina Koa Pono (AKP) project didn’t go through, and that is a good thing.

If it had been approved by the PUC, we rate payers would have been saddled with subsidizing AKP to the tune of $200/barrel by 2015 – this year. Today, oil costs less than $50/barrel. We would have been screaming when we saw our electric bills every month.
(This is also a fun time to review The Legend of the Horse That Was Really a Unicorn.)

Here’s what I wrote about this back in 2012. I saw the potential for disaster back then, and so did Mina Morita. It’s because of her Aina Koa Pono didn’t succeed and this didn’t happen. That’s true leadership. She is a true consumer advocate.

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