Oahu voters to decide whether to create climate change office

Oahu voters to decide whether to create climate change office
Published: Oct. 28, 2016 at 11:22 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 29, 2016 at 12:29 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In the general election, Oahu voters will have to answer this question: Does the city need an office whose sole purpose is preparing for rising ocean levels and other effects of climate change?

With Honolulu's bustling metropolis on the edge of the ocean amid a record building boom, it's a pivotal decision for Oahu's future.

And scientists say such an office is long overdue.

If the charter amendment is approved by voters, the office would address climate change's potential impacts to roadways, sewer lines, water lines, and pump stations. The office would also create a task force, monitor scientific predictions, and work with community members and city officials.

Scientists at the University of Hawaii say if you want an example of climate change's effects visible today, you need look no further than Mapunapuna. The community regularly floods during high tides or strong storms.

"We know from research that is well-accepted in the science community that we are looking at the order of 1 foot of sea level rise by mid-century, and potentially 3 feet of sea level rise by the end of this century," said Dr. Chip Fletcher, University of Hawaii Manoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology associate dean.

Fletcher says another example is waves splashing out of a storm drain and onto the street during high tide in front of the Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort.

"Two feet of sea level rise is expected to occur at least by the year 2075. So we're that far away from having major parts of Waikiki and Kakaako turn in to wetlands," he said.

Fletcher says all coastal communities are at risk.

"On the North Shore ... today we count seven houses that are vulnerable to coastal erosion. That rises to 144 houses in just the next 16 years," Fletcher said.

"No one place is more or less jeopardy than other. Everything has to be re-imagined, everything has to be re-designed."

Charter amendment no. 7 asks voters: "Should the city use its powers to serve the people in a sustainable and transparent manner and to promote stewardship of natural resources for future and present generations, and should the city create an Office of Climate Change, Sustainability, and Resiliency?"

Cheryl Soon, member of the Honolulu Charter Commission, said the new office is about preparedness.

"To put it in the charter of the city and county, which is really the constitution, is to say 'we are taking proactive steps in this direction' and that's really what the young people are asking from us,"  she said.

But not everyone is supportive of the proposed change. Some city leaders believe the office is unnecessary and a waste of taxpayers money.

"The mayor could designate a person within his office or within a managing directors' office or within the Office of Economic Development to do climate change and then work with the other organizations that are already doing this and partner with them," said Honolulu City Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi.

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