PUNA, Hawaii: There may be no more contentious district on Hawaii Island then Puna, and now that there are two Council Seats serving the greater Puna area – and two very interesting political races for those seats – the unique issues are taking center stage.
First we focus on the 4th district, referred to as Puna makai. The district includes Hawaiian Paradise Park east of highway 130, Hawaiian Beaches, Leilani Estates and Kapoho.
Incumbent Fred Blas is looking to keep his seat, against challengers James Weatherford and Greggor Ilagan.
We spoke to both Weatherford and Ilagan on location for this story. Both candidates told us a little about themselves before the election.
Councilman Fed Blas, however, was a little harder to track down. He was conspicuously absent from forums we filmed, and although we set up a day for an interview, his tone changed when we told him about the sort of questions we were going to ask, saying he only wanted to talk about the positive things, like job creation. And that was the last we heard from him.
We intended to ask all three candidates the same set of four questions. Weatherford and Ilagan were happy to answer. As for Blas, luckily we can refer to his record as a councilmember for some answers.
First, we asked what seems to be the big question these days: what is your stance on geothermal in Puna, and the possible expansion of the industry in the area?
Fred Blas has been an advocate for geothermal, often at the risk of getting an earful from opponents of the industry.
Blas often voted against the recent geothermal related measures brought forward by Council Chair Dominic Yagong…
We also asked about Puna’s papaya industry… the big agricultural export in the region, which has recently introduced its genetically modified variety to the Japanese market for the first time. Still, papaya farmers are haunted by the mysterious, periodic destruction of their crops at the hands of unknown vandals.
Blas has been a vocal advocate of the papaya farmers, leading the way in prior years, helping to raise the reward money for information on who committed the acts of destruction.
There is also talk these days of a new county road through the district. P-MAR, or the Puna Makai Alternate Route… would give residents another option to the congested Highway 130, but would have to cut through private lands to become a reality.
Over the phone, Blas indicated to us that he was in support of PMAR, but there were no details offered.
Our final question dealt with codes in Puna… whether they be building codes or zoning codes, many of these remote Puna subdivisions have a reputation for abiding by a code of their own.
Fred Blas has taken a beating on this topic. He says he felt threatened by this angry group of Puna residents, protesting the day the council passed the new building code in Hilo.
We asked Blas’ opponents about how they would handle this situation.