Wednesday, July 30, 2008

"Humongous" problems in the long-term

Roundtable discussion of the House Special Committee on Vog Effects

That's how Rex Johnson, Hawaii Tourism Authority Director, described the impact of Vog on the Big Island at today's meeting of the House Special Committee on Vog Effects. The focus was the impact of Vog on the economy, including tourism, real estate, and general business. Here are some notes:

Rep. Bob Herkes: We are getting reports that there is an increase in the number of psychological problems. Perhaps Dr. Green can comment on that.

Rep. Josh Green: Yes, in addition to the physical effects of Vog, there seem to by psychological conditions related to the vog, including depression and suicide. People are "freaked out".

Pearl Imada Iboshi, DBEDT Director of Research and Economic Analysis: It's difficult to separate out the impact of Vog to the economy from the ongoing downturn.

Rex Johnson: Organizers of the Ironman are sending people to monitor air quality. The athletes are concerned, just like they are in Beijing.

John Monahan, Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau: I grew up in Los Angeles in the 50's and 60's. When I vacationed on the Big Island recently, it reminded me of growing up in Los Angeles, and not in a good way.

Rex Johnson: The Big Island will have major problems. Investors don't like that kind of thing. Visitors don't like that kind of thing.

Rep. Robert Herkes, Chairman (District 5 - Puna, Kau, South Kona, North Kona) and Rep. Clift Tsuji (District 3 - South Hilo, Panaewa, Puna, Keaau, Kurtistown)

John Monahan: You can't put a positive spin on this; you have to tell the truth. People save for a vacation and it's not good if they get here and have a bad experience because no one told them about the Vog. And they tell that to their travel agent, and news travels.

Kelly Wakayama, Hawaii Island Board of Realtors: We know of sales losses due to view planes. When people can't see the ocean, they go somewhere else. What are the realtor's obligations? Education, more disclosure.

Diane Ley, County of Hawaii, Research and Development: We see an increased use of energy because of the need to use the air-conditioning. Solar systems are operating at less efficiency because the Vog blocks the sun. We're seeing erosion of fencing materials, and other infrastructure deterioration. People are buying more bottled water because they don't trust the water source. There are reports of greater absenteeism, which can be a problem for small businesses. On the positive side, businesses that promote health products and fitness clubs are showing an increase in business.

Rep. Herkes: Please send a message to the Hawaii County Council for me. The members each have a $100,000 discretionary fund, that's $900,000 total, that they can use to help people who are badly hurt economically from the Vog. Why aren't they using these funds? What about real property tax relief? Can't the County Council do that?

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