Rep. Gene Ward: Unmanned Aircraft Coming Soon to Hawaii

ImageJanuary 27, 2014

For many of us, the acronym UAV (which stands for unmanned aerial vehicle) is synonymous with weaponized drones and faraway airstrikes we occasionally read about in the news. Contrary to this view and the Star Advertiser’s (“Let’s be clear about limits of drone use” January 05, 2014) equally cautious perspective, there is another side to this over-militarized view of our advanced flying technologies.

Sometimes we forget that the military is often the testing grounds that immensely benefits civil society through later commercial applications. Take for example the discoveries of antibiotics, jet travel, the Internet, and GPS that were advanced by U.S. military investments that paved the way for mainstream commercial applications. Can anyone imagine life on this planet without the Internet?

UAVs thus have numerous applications which can serve to improve our lives in Hawaii and the world as a whole. One of the more popularized examples of this made headlines when Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos declared his company’s interest in using drones to deliver packages directly to customers’ doorsteps.

And while it is easy to shrug the idea off as overly optimistic or a PR stunt, UAVs of similar size are already available to hobby and toy consumers. Brookstone, for example, sells a helicopter that can be controlled from a smartphone or tablet and includes an onboard camera. Where it once took countless hours to master control of such aircraft, advancements in microelectronics have given anyone the ability to fly them relatively easily.

Now businesses have become very interested in integrating UAV technology into their operations. But UAV flight is currently all but prohibited for anything but government operations. In order to eventually change that, the FAA has established testing sites for UAV flight that will try to determine how to integrate the technology into the existing national airspace and develop rules that commercial operators must follow.

The state of Hawaii will become the location of some of this testing. The state’s diverse topography and ample airspace over the ocean make it well-suited to perform such testing. The unmanned aircraft being tested can range in size from as small as 2.5 pounds and the size of a smoke detector up to 50 pounds with a wingspan of approximately 10 feet.

Designing UAVs that can perform a wide variety of missions including agricultural work, infrastructure inspection, wildlife management, film production, and weather forecasting presents Hawaii with the opportunity to be a leader in multi-billion dollar industry which could attract high-paying, stable jobs. UAVs could even save lives by searching for victims after a natural disaster or tracking the movement of a shark lurking along popular beaches.

Despite the obvious benefit that UAVs could provide, they have been routinely criticized for their capacity to breach the privacy of American citizens in a manner never before seen. And this capacity, coupled with mounting concerns over government spying programs have vilified the UAV’s image with much of the public.

This fact, however, must not and surely will not stop their development. While the nation continues to debate Big Brother programs that have collected ever more information about our personal lives, we should not turn our backs on a technology that has the potential to transform the world we live in for the better.

Instead, we should focus on adopting the beneficial applications of UAV technology while insisting on their proper oversight and regulation. That is why some of us are forming an AeroSpace Caucus in the Hawaii State Legislature and have introduced bills this session that will promote as well as tame UAV activity in Hawaii.

ImageAbout the author: Rep. Gene Ward (R-Hawaii Kai –Kalama Valley) is Vice Chair of the Economic Development and Business Committee in the House of Representatives.

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Rep. Cynthia Thielen: Saving Sand Dunes

ImageJanuary 24, 2014

It is ironic that a few home builders, expecting to live a life in paradise, actually threaten their own vision with irresponsible construction that destroys vital coastal dunes.

Coastal dunes act as flexible barriers to ocean storm surges and waves, protect low-lying backshore areas, and serve as sand reservoirs for beach nourishment. However, coastal dunes are highly sensitive to human activities and require limited interaction with humans to ensure their preservation.

As Hawaii’s shorelines have become increasingly developed with beachfront residential communities, shoreline specialists have been reexamining shoreline setbacks as a mechanism to preserve Hawaii’s beaches.

Kauai has set an excellent example for the entire state by adopting a strong setback ordinance: on the Garden Isle, the setback is 40 feet from the certified shoreline plus 70 times the annual erosion rate. For properties with larger buildings (greater than 5,000 square feet), the setback is 40 feet plus 100 times the annual erosion rate. Not only is this the strongest shoreline setback in the state, it is among the strongest in the nation!

However, current statewide regulations for coastal construction projects do not take sea level rise into account, a growing problem for shoreline communities which rely on natural barriers such as sand dunes for environmental protection and stability.

Fortunately, newly introduced House Bill 1537 directly addresses the shoreline issue for the entire State of Hawaii. The bill purposes to implement a permit program for Oahu’s shoreline construction and enables project managers to anticipate the long-term environmental hazard of sea level rise and its relationship with vital sand dunes.

With Hawaii currently facing sea level increases of 1.46 millimeters per year, HB 1537 allows experts to anticipate this environmental threat and will protect Hawaii’s shoreline, one of our state’s most valuable assets.

I will continue to work with shoreline specialists, the community, and my fellow legislators to ensure that our beaches – in Kailua, and across the State – are preserved and enjoyed by all in the years to come.

ImageAbout the author: Rep. Cynthia Thielen represents the 50th District (Kailua, Kaneohe Bay) in the State House of Representatives and is Vice-Chair of the Energy and Environmental Protection Committee.

INDUSTRIAL HEMP LEGISLATION

Today the United States Senate approved the Agriculture Act of 2014, also known as the “Farm Bill,” which includes legalization of industrial hemp for research purposes. The Farm Bill states that industrial hemp may be grown for the purpose of state university or state Agriculture Department research without Drug Enforcement Administration permission. Ten states have passed legislation legalizing hemp, and House Bill 154 will make Hawaii the eleventh state.

ImageState Representative Cynthia Thielen (R, 50th District: Kailua, Kaneohe Bay) co-introduced House Bill 154 which would authorize a two-year industrial hemp remediation and biofuel crop research program conducted through the College of Tropical Agriculture at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. When passed, this progressive legislation will keep Hawaii on the cutting edge of agricultural research, help the state realize the economic capabilities of the crop, and potentially restore land previously damaged by earlier contamination.

“With its ability to cleanse the soil of toxins, industrial hemp could be an environmentally friendly replacement for sugar and pineapple,” says Representative Thielen, remarking on hemp’s potential in Hawaii. “Hemp is often grown without pesticides or herbicides due to its natural ability to ward off unwanted insects and weeds. Furthermore, hemp’s potential as a biofuel feedstock could be a game-changer for Hawaii.”

The Farm Bill passed 251-166 in the United States House of Representatives on Wednesday, January 29 and passed 68-32 in the Senate on Tuesday, February 4.  HB 154 has already passed through the Hawaii House of Representatives and the joint Agriculture and Energy & Environment committee in the Senate, waiting for final action in the Senate Ways & Means committee and the signature of the Governor where it becomes law.

Representative Thielen notes, “The global market for hemp consists of over 25,000 different products, with U.S. being the world’s largest consumer at nearly $500 million per year. Now that Congress has authorized states to grow industrial hemp, Hawaii can lead these efforts in a climate that will produce three crops a year.”

Civil Beat Feb 05, 2014:   Rep. Thielen Welcomes Hemp Research in Farm BIll  

Rep. Gene Ward HB 2257 – Board of Education; Superintendent’s Salary

RELATING TO DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION SUPERINTENDENT’S SALARY.
Report Title: Board of Education; Superintendent’s Salary
Description: Adjusts the salary cap of the Superintendent of Education.
Companion: SB2806
Passed Second Reading and referred to the committee(s) on LAB with Representative(s) Thielen, Ward voting aye with reservations; none voting no (0) and Representative(s) Yamane excused (1).

wardContact: repward@capitol.hawaii.gov Excerpt from Capitol TV