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GMO tops discussion at Waikoloa forum

August 1, 2014 - 12:05am

Two of the three candidates vying for the County Council seat in District 9 expressed concerns about the likely results of a request for proposals to deal with Hawaii County’s garbage.

The language in the request looked good, incumbent Margaret Wille said Thursday evening during a forum at Waikoloa Elementary School.

“When you got into the specifics, such as what history those proposers had to have, it limited to (mass burn),” she said, adding that a waste-to-energy plant would require trucking garbage from West Hawaii to Hilo, where the plant would be located. “There are a lot of municipalities going bankrupt because they invested in these $100 million, $300 million incinerators.”

Sonny Shimaoka, who ran unsuccessfully against Wille in 2012, said he was concerned about what the county would do with the ash left over after the garbage is burned.

“The jury is still out for me on waste to energy,” he said. “I don’t think we’re at the place where we can dig another hole (for a new landfill).”

Ron Gonzales defended the process, noting the process is proscribed by the state.

“The bids haven’t even come back yet,” Gonzales said.

The candidates answered questions posed by the audience, sometimes directed at just one candidate, other times for all three. One question about how long they have lived in the district went to the entire panel, but first to Gonzales, who has faced accusations of not actually living in Waikoloa.

“I live in District 9,” he said. “If something was not the way it was supposed to be, you would think the county would have done something about it.”

The question came up a second time later in the forum.

“I live here and that’s that,” Gonzales said.

Wille has faced criticism for her position on genetically modified organisms. She said she believed labeling of GMO products should be done at the state or federal level, but protecting private property and farmers is a local issue.

Gonzales said the labeling burden should fall on the GMO-free products, because that is a minority of the market.

All three state Senate candidates found common ground when it came to genetically modified organisms. Incumbent Malama Solomon, her opponent in the Democratic Party Primary for the fourth district seat, former state Senator Lorraine Inouye, and Libertarian Alain Schiller all said they would like to see GMO products labeled.

The state Senate last session did have a labeling bill, Solomon said.

“We decided to go with a resolution,” she said, adding that the University of Hawaii is supposed to report on what it would cost if the state or counties were responsible for the labels. “Labeling of food products really belongs to the (U.S. Department of Agriculture).”

She said doing so at the state level would likely be cost prohibitive, because Hawaii imports 75 to 80 percent of its food.

Inouye said it might be done at the state level.

“I’d like to see rather than just doing this island, I think it should be state as well,” she said.

Schiller said people deserve information.

“People need to have the choice,” he said. “They need to know what they’re buying at the supermarket. People need to have the knowledge of what they’re putting in their body.”

Solomon and Inouye didn’t criticize Hawaii’s large union presence when asked a question critical of the union’s influence and the impact of collective bargaining.

“The protection of labor is in the constitution,” Solomon said. “It would require constitutional amendments to change our viewpoint when it comes to collective bargaining.”

While unions may sometimes overreach during collective bargaining, Inouye said, some of the responsibility for the negotiations also falls on the state or county administration.

The forum was hosted by the Waikoloa Community Development Program, with help from the Waikoloa Village Association, Friends of the Library — Waikoloa Region, the Senior Center and Waikoloa Community Development Corp.