By Brooks Baehr - bio | email
HONOLULU (Hawaii News Now) - Environmental groups are celebrating the confirmation of William Aila Jr. as the new Director of the Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Thursday afternoon the state Senate voted 23-0 to make Aila the new DLNR chief.
A large crowd filled the Senate chambers to support the former harbor master at the Waianae Boat Harbor. Friends wore t-shirts urging the senate to vote yes on Aila's confirmation. DLNR staffers made it clear they want Aila as their boss. And almost all of the lawmakers were in his corner.
"I think he's demonstrated over the years that he's got the ability to bring people together. He can represent all people. We've had our disagreements in the past. We'll have them in the future, but I think he's honest. He's got integrity, and he's got the community support. He's got the department support," said Senator Sam Slom, the lone republican in the Senate.
The vote was unanimous despite strong criticism from Senator Clayton Hee who questioned Aila's character and integrity. Hee raised eyebrows by asking whether Aila will run the DLNR as a "stallion" or "gelding."
Hee questioned why Aila failed to disclose his commercial fishing permit when testifying before a legislative committee against an aquarium fishing ban. And Hee wondered whether Aila gave adequate consideration to native Hawaiian burial sites before signing off on Honolulu's rail project.
"This nominee will lead the most powerful board in the state. And by his actions up to this point it causes grave concern," Hee said.
Hee was the only senator critical of Aila.
After he the confirmation vote Aila said he took Hee's comment about horses "in stride."
"There are obvious differences of opinion on the decisions that I make, and they are certainly entitled to those opinions. I understand. There is a difference though between what I feel personally and what I have to do as a member who is sitting in that office," Aila told reporters.
Aila said his biggest challenge will be protecting Hawaii's natural resources with limited personnel.
"We certainly need some critical help in historic preservation. We need some critical help in DOCARE (division of conservation and resources enforcement). We need some critical help to deal with the damn safety issues, rock slide issues. These are issues that are of public health and safety. We also need help in our state parks," he said.
Environmental groups said if anyone can get the job done, it will be Aila.
"I think that William Aila's confirmation as DLNR director is wonderful news for everyone who is concerned about protecting Hawaii's biological resources, cultural resources, and just the very special place that is Hawaii," said David Henkin, an attorney for Earthjustice.
"He knows the natural resources. He understands the importance of protecting it. And we remain confident that he's going to be the best person for the job," added Robert Harris, director of the Hawaii chapter of the Sierra Club.