Hawai‘i Awarded Nearly $4 Million in Federal Grants to Study Alternative Transportation Funding Methods

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) awarded $3.998 million in competitive grant funding to the Hawai‘i Department of Transportation (HDOT) as part of the Surface Transportation System Funding Alternatives (STSFA) program. The grant will allow the HDOT Highways Division to study and explore alternative methods of funding state and county transportation systems in the future.

Surface Transportation“Trends toward more fuel-efficient, hybrid and electric cars have a significant impact on transportation funding in Hawaiʻi because of our current reliance on the gas tax as a transportation funding mechanism,” said Gov. David Ige. “While I encourage the move away from fossil fuels as part of our commitment to a clean energy future, the resulting lower consumption reduces the funds available for highways projects. Moving forward, we need to explore new ways to fund our state highway system. We are thankful for FHWA’s commitment to help Hawaiʻi confront this challenge.”

HDOT Highways Division plans to use the $3.998 million grant to study alternatives to the gas tax by working with county and state officials and stakeholders to design new systems to obtain highways funding. These systems will then be tested with Hawaiʻi residents and visitors. One example of an alternative funding mechanism is road maintenance fees based on the number of miles driven, similar to how electric or water utilities are metered.

“Our goal is to design a system for highways funding that is fair, transparent, and easy to use for the public,” said Ford Fuchigami, director, Hawai‘i Department of Transportation. “We will continue to work toward creating a sustainable funding source for the many projects we have, to address the care and maintenance of Hawaiʻi roads.”

Dwindling gas tax revenues is a national problem. Congress created the grant program so that states can study alternatives that will help the federal government restore solvency to the Federal Highway Trust Fund. For Federal Fiscal Year 2016, a total of $15 million in STSFA funds were granted to states on a competitive basis.

Real-Life CSI Coming to Kona

The College of Continuing Education and Community Service (CCECS) at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo is offering a class on Introduction to Forensics: Real-Life CSI in Kailua-Kona.

CSI

Classes will be held at Kealakehe Intermediate School (Room TBA) on Tuesdays from 5 – 7 p.m., September 13 to November 22, with no session on November 8. Tuition is $150. The textbook Criminalistics: An Introduction to Forensic Science, 8th edition by Richard Saferstein is required.

This non-credit class will introduce participants to the field of forensic science. Evidence collected at a crime scene can often tell the story of a criminal act if properly interpreted. Detection and analysis of DNA traces, fiber, hair, body fluids, fingerprints, footprints, toxic substances and illegal drugs are fundamental to the forensic scientist’s craft.

The instructor is Dr. Kristal Uhl-Blacksmith, an environmental engineering consultant and former mortician, who has taught biology, anatomy and forensics.

For more information and to register, contact CCECS at 932-7830 or visit http://hilo.hawaii.edu/ccecs/.

Ensuring a Future for Hawaii’s Endangered Forest Birds

Two Species on the Brink of Extinction Being Brought Into Safety from Threats in the Wild

Hawaii’s forest birds are one of the best examples anywhere in the world, of what’s known as adaptive radiation. This means a few founding individual species evolved into a multitude of species. They’re also a key reason Hawaii holds the unenviable nickname of “extinction capitol of the world”, as many species have disappeared since the arrival of people to the islands.

Endangered Bird2

Most of the remaining are highly endangered and the subject of intense conservation efforts. Habitat loss and degradation, non-native predators, landscape-altering invasive weeds, and avian disease spread by mosquitoes have all contributed to the current predicament faced by these species.

John Vetter, for the DLNR Division of Forestry & Wildlife explains, “Kauai is the starkest example of this endangerment. Since the 1960s, five species have gone extinct, with three others considered critically endangered.

Endangered BirdIntroduced avian malaria is the biggest driver of this extinction crisis, but habitat degradation and non-native predators continue playing a significant role. Natural disasters, such as Hurricane Iniki, contribute to habitat loss or destruction. Avian disease is spread by non-native mosquitoes, which have been moving upslope as the climate warms, threatening the populations of the species at the highest parts of the island.”

Over the past two years, DLNR and its partners, led by the Kauai Forest Bird Recovery Project have spent many months deep in the forests of the Alakai Wilderness Preserve  searching for nests of two species, the Akikiki and Akekee. They collect eggs that are then moved to a captive breeding facility. There are fewer than 1,000 Akekee and the Akikiki population is below 500 birds. Dr. Lisa “Cali” Crampton, the project leader said, “Both have experienced significant declines over the past decade leading to concerns that these species will disappear in the near future.”

“The creation of captive populations serves as insurance for the possible extinction of the species, while simultaneously providing young that can eventually be reintroduced back into the wild,” Crampton added.

Endangered Bird3A similar program for the Puaiohi, another critically endangered species found only on Kauai, was successful and culminated in the release of hundreds of captive-reared birds to supplement the wild population. Earlier this year, most of the remaining Puaiohi individuals in captivity were released back into the forest, signaling the end of the program. This fall, the rarest species of Hawaiian forest bird, the Alala, will be reintroduced back to the forests of Hawaii Island. The last wild one disappeared in 2002. The remaining 130 birds are found only in two captive facilities on Maui and Hawaii Island.

Significant partners in these efforts include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has contributed significant funding and expertise to these projects, and San Diego Zoo Global, which manages the captive breeding of these critically-endangered species, and plays a large role in the reintroduction and monitoring of the birds back to the wild. The Kauai Forest Bird Recovery Project, a project of the Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit of the University of Hawaii and DLNR, oversees the research and management of the species on Kauai. They lead nest-searching and collection efforts, while also controlling other threats to the species in the wild, primarily rats.

Oahu Man Indicted on Charges of Possession & Distribution of Child Porn

Attorney General Doug Chin announced today that Jeffrey P. Bettis has been indicted for criminal charges related to the possession and distribution of child pornography.

Bettis is accused of disseminating eight (8) images of children being sexually exploited. He is also accused of possessing one hundred four (104) images and thirty (30) videos of children being sexually exploited, with at least twenty-nine (29) of the images and seventeen (17) of the videos depicting children under the age of twelve. The investigation was conducted by the Hawaii Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force in the Attorney General’s office.

Attorney General Chin said of the charges: “Possessing and disseminating child pornography is child abuse. Every time someone views these images, the victim suffers more abuse. The Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force’s mission is to prosecute this sick behavior.”

Bettis is fifty (50) years old. An Oahu grand jury indicted him for two counts of promoting child abuse in the second degree, a class B felony.  Each count is punishable by up to ten years in prison. Bail is set at $11,000 and a bench warrant has been issued for Bettis’ arrest.

Bettis is presumed innocent unless and until he is found guilty of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt.