Expect tight security, disruptions for high-profile conference this fall
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The most prestigious environmental event on the planet is coming to Hawaii this fall.
Every four years, the International Union for Conservation of Nature holds a conference for world leaders and experts in the fields of sustainability and preservation.
This year, Honolulu is the venue. The conference will be held from Sept. 1 to 10.
"This is the first time ever it's being held in the United States -- let alone in Hawaii -- so we're very, very proud that Hawaii will be hosting the World Conservation Congress," said Suzanne Case, chairwoman of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Officials say Oahu was selected as the first American site to hold the World Conservation Congress in large part because of the obstacles the island environment faces -- and solutions that have already been developed.
"It's a tremendous opportunity for us, not only to gain information but to show the rest of the world what we're doing to take care of the planet," said Randy Tanaka, president of the World Conservation Congress national host committee.
"Because if we don't take care of the planet, it can't take care of us. So all the things that will come together at this conference is only the beginning, it is not the end. The conference will come and go, but the opportunity for us going forward is tremendous."
Dignitaries and leaders from 178 countries will be attending the conference; even President Obama has been invited.
Honolulu to be on world stage
Event organizers say the safety of all participants and the public is their top priority. After Honolulu successfully hosted the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in 2015, the conservation summit provides a chance to once against show that Hawaii can handle large events -- no matter the magnitude of the security needs.
"We are in good shape," Tanaka said. "The team is prepared. Things will change -- that's just the nature of this business. There will be variables and we've tried to accommodate that from left to right, top to down. We'll see what happens."
The conference itself will be held at the Hawaii Convention Center, but the opening ceremony on will be at the Blaisdell Center.
While there aren't full road closures planned at this stage, some lanes will be restricted on Ward Avenue and Kapiolani Boulevard, along with King and Victoria Streets.
"If you're not going in that immediate area, please look for another path of travel," said Mike Formby, city Department of Transportation Services director. "If you are going in that area, you can still get where you want to go, but you're going to have to go in a circuitous route."
During the 10-day conference, McCoy Pavilion will be converted into a staging area for first responders.
Conference to trigger road, park closures
The Magic Island parking lot and park itself will be closed to the public on Sept. 1, so shuttles for attendees can be parked there. The Ala Wai Canal, Ala Wai Community Park and Ala Wai Promenade will all be closed during the entire conference for security purposes..
"The closed area will extend from the Ala Moana bridge to the Kalakaua Avenue bridge," said Jason Redulla, acting chief for the state Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement.
"While we understand this will be a level of inconvenience for the public, we do appreciate their consideration and understanding," Redulla said, adding that all the canoe clubs that frequent the area have been given advance notice.
Previous IUCN events haven't led to heated clashes, but given it's exposure to an international audience, it has attracted protests and rallies. Officials are planning for designated free speech zones.
"Our intent is to work with these groups, make sure they have a location available to them to conduct their business," said Assistant Police Chief Clayton Kau. "We want to make sure they can conduct it in a safe environment."
Protesters will be asked to line up along the Ward Avenue sidewalk across the street from the Blaisdell Center on September 1, and they'll likely be allowed to gather along the Ala Wai Promenade behind the Hawaii Convention Center during the rest of the conference.
Security expected to be tight
State and county agencies will provide security.
"There will be certain days that the Congress is open to the public and as we've all come to expect in this day and age, we do need to do security checks of bags, backpacks, etc. going into the facility," said Stephen Kornegay, with the state Attorney General's Office Investigations Division.
"So for the members of the public that are looking to come out, we ask that they please limit the number of containers that they have, make sure that there's nothing in there that can be used as a weapon. Leave that behind and that will facilitate everyone going into and out of the facility much quicker."
City officials say with so many moving parts, there will be changes -- which is why they want anyone who lives or works neighborhoods affected by the conference is being urged to sign up for Nixle alerts. You can sign up by clicking here or by texting your zip code to 888777.
"This will be the venue in which we city and county will be sharing the latest and up-to-date information with regard to traffic and particular community events that may be impacted," said Melvin Kaku, city Department of Emergency Management director.
Officials say they have been working on their security plan for the World Conservation Congress for over a year now.
"We expect to have somewhere between 8,000 and 10,000 people from around the world," Mayor Kirk Caldwell said.
"It's not quite as big as APEC and it may not have as many heads of state, but we're going to have a lot of very important people here discussing issues that are top of mind for everyone in the world. Things like global warming, sea level rise, how to preserve nature, how we live in a more sustainable way.
"When you think about the Hawaiian Islands -- the most isolated island land mass anywhere in the world and the things that we struggle with -- it's a great window for the people who come to talk about the issues that we face all around this world."
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