A longtime Pahoa community volunteer involved in youth sports programs, Puna Councilman Fred Blas sees jobs for young people as the most pressing need of Hawaii County.
“Where are they going to find jobs? Where are these kids going to go?” Blas asks himself when he sees the throngs of people who participate in youth programs.
Blas, running for his second term in the renumbered Puna Council District 4, said he takes a countywide approach to his votes, but he looks especially intently at his district. He touted capital improvement projects he’s been pushing for the district, and said increasing infrastructure for the fast-growing and long-neglected Puna District is one way to provide jobs. But he noted many Puna residents commute to the west side of the island to work in the hospitality industry, so it’s important that West Hawaii have good infrastructure, too.
Blas said West Hawaii pays more property taxes because property values are higher because of the business base, especially the resorts.
“There’s more business over there. If we had more business over here, we’d pay more taxes, too,” Blas said.
Blas said he’s been trying to get more capital improvement projects into the Puna District because for so long it has been neglected.
“We need help down here. Bring the infrastructure so we can bring business,” he said.
Blas said Puna now has fine dining and other restaurants to attract tourists, but better roads remain a priority.
“Roads in Pahoa have never been done in 25 years,” he said.
He said small manufacturing should also be considered, such as a motorcycle-powered, four-person shuttle project he’s been working on with constituents. The vehicles could be used in downtown Hilo and Kailua-Kona and in busy tourist districts, but not on the main highway, he said.
Blas said he’s against trucking Hilo garbage to West Hawaii because it could spread coqui frogs to areas where they’re currently not found. A waste-to-energy incinerator is the best option, he said.
Blas thinks the county should put more pressure on Hawaii Electric Light Co. to lower rates.
“We need to just tell them, ‘Look, Mr. HELCO, I know you’re making a lot of money. Give the community back some. Don’t be too greedy,’” he said.
Because Puna doesn’t have the sun and wind energy other areas have, Blas believes geothermal must be part of the equation. He said the county needs to take health and safety into account while pursuing geothermal, however.
As far as county furloughs, Blas said they should be discontinued as soon as the economy improves. He gave up 10 percent of his salary and doesn’t accept reimbursement for conferences, trips, mileage or gas and cellphone stipends, he said.
“I’m not a politician,” he said. “I don’t go and talk and talk and talk.”
Blas said he looks out for his district, but he doesn’t believe in majority and minority factions on the council.
“I don’t like the argument going back and forth. … I really put myself right in between,” Blas said. “Whatever’s good for Kona is good for Hilo, and whatever’s good for Hilo is good for Kona.”