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Three council members head to Washington

February 26, 2014 - 12:05am

Three County Council members are toting armloads of questions and ideas on their trip this weekend to the National Association of Counties conference in Washington, D.C.

Hilo Councilman Dennis Onishi, Kona Councilman Dru Kanuha and Hamakua Councilwoman Valerie Poindexter are attending the annual event, which is scheduled to last through March 5. Some 1,500 county officials from across the United States are expected to attend.

All of the Hawaii council members are planning to stick to the Hawaii State Association of Counties’ priority of seeking funding for water infrastructure as one of their main goals. Onishi is taking along a list of 26 water projects countywide that are in search of $58.4 million in National Rural Water Association funding.

“It’s a major focus, to get funding for our water resources, to improve our water system,” Onishi said.

Water is a huge issue for Kona and other areas on the dry side of the island, noted Kanuha, in a Tuesday morning telephone interview from a county Water Board meeting at the West Hawaii Civic Center, where he was hearing a presentation from the National Park Service to designate the Keauhou Aquifer System as a groundwater management area.

“I want to know more about how we can better use our water in Kona,” Kanuha said.

NACo leadership, meanwhile, is urging members to also focus on the mainland’s interstate transportation system and economic recovery as the theme of the conference. Among the special guest speakers scheduled for the conference are Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee; Secretary Shaun Donovan, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; Secretary Sally Jewell, U.S. Department of Interior; and Secretary Anthony Foxx, U.S. Department of Transportation, according to the NAC0 website.

“A special highlight of the conference will be a March 4 rally on Capitol Hill where county officials, joined by members of the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives, will press Congress to pass a multiyear surface transportation bill that provides long-term certainty and increases funding for transportation infrastructure,” according to NACo.

In addition, Kanuha will be attending sessions to learn more about waste-to-energy and how to handle other solid waste issues and will be going to Capitol Hill to lobby for the return of the U.S. Customs facility and international flights to Kona International Airport.

Poindexter plans to attend agriculture and rural affairs sessions, hoping to see how other counties are tackling the genetically modified organism issue.

“I want to see how others in other counties are handling this and what direction they’re going to take on it,” Poindexter said.

She also will be looking at workshops on increasing broadband and Internet capacity in rural areas, she said.

Last year, five Hawaii County Council members attended. The council has since changed its rules from having the trip funded from general council expenses to having each council member take the money from his or her designated expense account, which was increased from $2,000 to $8,550 last year. The trip costs about $3,000 per council member.

Council Chairman J Yoshimoto still must OK the travel, however.

“It’s each council member’s decision,” Yoshimoto said.

Yoshimoto said he went twice as a council member and found the second time more useful than the first, because he was more prepared. Kanuha and Poindexter, both first-term council members, also went last year, as did Onishi, who is the council’s liaison to NACo, NACo’s Western Interstate Region and HSAC.

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