Police searching for missing Keaau woman
Big Island police are searching for a 21-year-old Keaau woman who was reported missing.
Nina Sabahi’s relatives have not heard from her in more than a month and are concerned about her health and welfare, according to the Hawaii Police Department. She is described as Caucasian, 5 feet 6 inches tall, weighing 125 pounds with blue eyes and dark brown hair.
Anyone with information on her whereabouts should call the Police Department’s nonemergency line at 935-3311. Those who prefer to remain anonymous may call Crime Stoppers at 961-8300 in Hilo or 329-8181 in Kona and may be eligible for a reward of up to $1,000.
Fire warning issued for South, West Hawaii
A red flag fire warning is in effect for leeward areas of Hawaii Island through 6 p.m., according to the National Weather Service in Honolulu.
The alert level means critical fire weather conditions either exist or will shortly take place. A combination of strong easterly winds, between 20 and 25 mph with higher gusts; low relative humidity; and warm temperatures is creating rapid fire growth potential.
For more information, visit prh.noaa.gov/hnl.
Court enters final judgment against online travel companies
Tax Appeal Court Judge Gary Chang Thursday entered a final judgment in favor of the State of Hawaii and against nine online travel companies selling Hawaii hotel rooms over the Internet and otherwise.
On Monday, the Tax Appeal Court granted the state’s motion for partial summary judgment, deciding that the companies owe approximately an additional $25 million for statutory interest on tax penalties. Altogether the taxes, penalties and interest for the period 2000 through 2011 is approximately $246 million. If the judgment is sustained after any further appeal, it would result in additional annual general excise tax collections estimated to be approximately $30 million.
The Tax Appeal Court ruled in favor of the companies on the state’s claim that the companies owe the state’s Transient Accommodation Tax, or TAT, over the same 2000 through 2011 tax years. The state intends to appeal from this ruling. The state maintains that the companies “furnish” transient accommodations, and that under the state’s TAT law, such persons must pay TAT on their gross rentals. The amount that the state contends is owed is $429.8 million, which includes taxes, penalties and interest. Should the state prevail on appeal, it is estimated that it would result in additional future annual TAT collections of approximately $60 million.
Attorney General David Louie announced the state is pleased the court determined that the companies owe the state’s general excise tax, which is imposed on persons for the privilege of doing business in Hawaii.
“Clearly, through the sale of millions of hotel room nights in Hawaii to Hawaii and other consumers, in a substantial number of Hawaii hotels, and collecting room rentals in the billions of dollars, the OTCs are doing business in Hawaii,” Louie said.
Driver pleads not guilty in deadly Hawaii crash
HONOLULU — A driver accused of causing a freeway collision that killed a Honolulu Police Department officer has pleaded not guilty to manslaughter.
KHON-TV reported Thursday that a trial date for Scott Ebert has been set for Oct. 14.
A grand jury indicted Ebert earlier this month in the Jan. 21, 2012 death of Officer Garret Davis.
Police said the 28-year-old officer had stopped his patrol car in the left eastbound lane of the H-1 Freeway in Aiea to help a motorist with a blown tire.
Prosecutors say Ebert was speeding at 83 mph when his pickup truck slammed into the patrol car, which burst into flames.
Ebert has posted $100,000 bail.
Hawaii unemployment falls to 4.5% in July
HONOLULU — Hawaii’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate last month was the lowest since August 2008.
State officials said Thursday the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in July fell to 4.5 percent, down from 4.6 percent in June.
A year ago, the rate was 8.2 percent.
Nationally, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 7.4 percent in July, down from 7.6 percent in June.
The construction sector added 1,100 jobs. The leisure and hospitality sector added 700 jobs. The government sector lost 600 as well as the educational and health services sector.
In all, there were almost 615,000 people with jobs and nearly 29,000 unemployed in July.
Honolulu County had last month’s lowest unemployment rate at 4.2 percent. Hawaii County was the highest at 7.5 percent. County rates are not seasonally adjusted.
No tsunami triggered by New Zealand temblor
No tsunami was triggered by a magnitude-6.8 earthquake that struck Thursday afternoon off New Zealand’s North Island.
The earthquake hit at 4:31 p.m. Hawaii time, according to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.
Sea urchins to help control alien seaweed
HONOLULU — Seaweed that could smother the life out of a Hawaii reef will be targeted again this year with a biological control — sea urchins.
Officials plan to release thousands of native sea urchins — a round, spiny underwater species — to control three seaweeds that were introduced in the 1970s in Kaneohe Bay with commercial development in mind.
The seaweed species from the Philippines and Indonesia were thought to have possibilities as an emulsifier. The commercial potential fizzled, but the seaweed stuck around.
“They didn’t think they would grow pretty well here, but they did,” said David Cohen, a hatchery manager at the state’s Anuenue Fisheries Research Center on Sand Island, which is developing the sea urchins.
The biologist has grown clams and oysters commercially. Under contract with the state Division of Aquatic Resources, he started sea urchin work four years ago.
“What we do in the hatchery is we try to improve the urchins’ odds of survival,” Cohen told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “Maintaining healthy populations of native sea urchins is vital in restoring the health of the reef.”
Scientists in the past have been only moderately successful in growing sea urchins, he said. In the hatchery’s first release in 2011, 1,000 sea urchins were placed on the reef. That blossomed to 60,000 last year. He’s aiming for 80,000 this year.
Sea urchin larvae are fragile and require the right water motion, Cohen said. The hatchery also grows single-cell phytoplankton to feed the sea urchins.
Larvae need four to five months to grow into urchins about the size of a nickel. After most of the seaweed is removed by a suction machine, the sea urchins are released on the reef. They reach a diameter of 3 to 4 inches as adults.
The sea urchin program, Cohen said, needed several years to gain support from the Hawaii Invasive Species Committee, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Nature Conservancy, Kaneohe Canoe Club and the University of Hawaii.
“I feel pretty good about it,” Cohen said.
By local and wire sources