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Tuesday, April 9, 2024
April 9, 2024 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 6:04 PM :: 2159 Views

Marconi Point Project Connected to DPP Bribery Scandal

Hours extended for re-entry access into Lahaina Wildfire Disaster Area

Lahaina: 43.8% of businesses “critical, on life support"

2,694 fire survivors living in 11 hotels—FEMA gives one month extension

CB: … The Federal Emergency Management Agency will continue to reimburse the state for Maui fire survivors’ housing for another month, picking up the tab for people temporarily housed in pricey resort hotels and condos.

The state would have been on the hook starting Thursday for paying the costs of all fire survivors still living in the hotels. But FEMA will continue to pay until May 10, officials announced Monday.

As of Monday, 2,694 fire survivors are living in 11 hotels. They make up 1,068 households, which is 16 fewer than a day earlier and 100 fewer than a week ago, according to the American Red Cross, which has a $500 million contract with the state to run the program.

The Legislature is in the midst of its budget process and already wrestling with how to deal with the escalating Maui fire recovery expenses that the state budget director said in February were expected to cost the state $600 million this year….

read … FEMA Extends Deadline To Reimburse State For Maui Fire Survivors Housed In Pricey Hotels

Half of rental units reserved for Maui fire victims (and paid by taxpayers) are sitting vacant

HNN: … About half of the rental units being reserved for Maui fire victims — more than 600 mostly former vacation rentals — are still vacant even as taxpayers fork over above-market rent for them.

Survivors and their supporters had heard that there were hundreds of FEMA rental units sitting empty but it wasn’t until late last week that the details came out.

Survivor Charles Nahale lived in four hotels in eight months and finally got the call for housing in January — an offer of a one-bedroom rental in West Maui. The contact from the program told him it would take some more time for background check and inspection.

“It would take her maybe at the most three weeks to actually get into the property,” Nahale said. “It ended up turning out to be two months.”

During those two months, FEMA was paying about $1,000 a day for his hotel and expenses and $5,100 a month for the vacant rental.

When he finally was cleared to move in and saw it for the first time, it ended up being a studio — not the one bedroom on the rental contract. Nahale said he runs his business out of his home so needed the one bedroom and laundry appliances in the unit, which had neither….

After hearing similar stories from others, Kim Ball, a business owner on Mayor Richard Bissen’s Lahaina advisory team, questioned FEMA about vacant units at a community meeting last week.

“They’re doing the best they can, but there’s been a lot of, let’s put it, wastefulness,” he said.

The FEMA coordinator for Maui, Curtis Brown, said that of the 1,361 units reserved by FEMA for survivors “we are paying for about 600-700 units.” Brown said the process takes at best a month for background checks and matching survivors to a unit, but is often longer.

“It could take up to two months,” Brown said. “But we still committed to that property. So we still have to pay that monthly fee to that property.”…

Business people say that some of these problems could have been avoided if FEMA hired local property managers for the rental program because of their familiarity with the market, the properties and the people who they are trying to help….

read … Half of rental units reserved for Maui fire victims (and paid by taxpayers) are sitting vacant

FBI had been Investigating Miske Since 2008

ILind: … According to Miske’s attorneys, citing records disclosed in discovery, the FBI’s Criminal Enterprise Squad launched Operation EM-EM on March 2, 2014, but it didn’t start from scratch.

The “new” investigation was “to re-focus on original subject of 245C-HN-20275, Mike Miske”, i.e.- the joint FBI/IRS/HPD Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation which had been opened in 2008, which the FBI had titled “Waimanalo Blues Miske, Michael.”

“Following the FBI’s opening of “Operation EM-EM” to re-focus on Miske, the IRS transferred custody of bank records collected during Waimanalo Blues to the FBI, including KTPC bank records from as early as May 2008, through at least October 2013, as well as bank records from Mr. Miske’s other businesses,” according to a reply filed by Miske’s attorneys on October 6, 2023.

As part of the earlier Waimanalo Blues investigation, the FBI made several controlled drug buys and wiretapped at least two telephones, “each for an initial 30-day period and a renewal,” but failed to implicate Miske in the drug trafficking.

The IRS also collected “at least 70 banker boxes of financial records involving Miske and his businesses,” which were turned over to Operation EM-EM.

A federal investigative grand jury began issuing subpoenas for financial information from Miske’s banks and financial advisors in 2014, at the same time federal investigators were actively developing confidential sources concerning Miske’s involvement in gambling, drug dealing, and extortion….

read … Operation EM-EM put Mike Miske’s finances under a microscope

HB2404: Tax Cut for Working Families heads to Conference Where Real Bill Will be Written

CB: … House Speaker Scott Saiki described HB 2404 as “probably the most significant tax bill” of the session, and said he also wants tax relief for low income workers.

Senate President Ron Kouchi referred questions about the tax proposals to Dela Cruz, who did not respond to a request for comment.

Green’s original income tax proposal has been modified as it’s moved through committees at the Legislature, and now has two major features. First, it would index state income tax brackets to inflation, a step that would prevent or delay people from moving into higher tax brackets as their earnings increase.

Dela Cruz’s Ways and Means Committee then amended the bill last week to more than double the current standard deductions that tax filers can claim. Those larger deductions would effectively reduce each state filer’s taxable income, delivering income tax savings to many residents.

An analysis by the state Tax Department predicts the latest version of HB 2404 would increase take-home pay by $634 for a hypothetical head-of-household filer with two children who earns $60,000 per year in wages.

The measure was tentatively approved by the full Senate on Friday, and is scheduled for another Senate floor vote on Tuesday. It will almost certainly then advance to conference committee, where lawmakers will try to work out differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.

But tax changes in the bill would come at a substantial cost to the state general fund. The Tax Department analysis shows the new Senate version of HB 2404 would reduce state income tax collections by more than $83 million next fiscal year.

The annual amount of lost tax collections would then grow by about $15 million each year after that, and by fiscal year 2030 the single-year revenue loss would reach about $163 million, according to the Tax Department….

(CLUE: This bill is all talk until the Conference Committee produced the real deal.)

read ... The Last Major Tax Bills Still Alive This Session Would Cut Income And Estate Taxes

HB2653: Estate Tax Cut for Hawaii Small Business Owners

CB: … Hawaii is one of the few remaining states that require family members who inherit a business to pay an estate tax….

It’s no secret that Hawaii’s family-owned businesses are disappearing. You can’t get locally grown eggs from Wahiawa-based Peterson’s Farm. Or beef cutlet at Like Like Drive Inn. Or crack seed at Samurai Snacks. These iconic family-owned Hawaii businesses are gone….

HB2653 will strengthen the economy by helping local businesses continue to create jobs, generate tax revenue and donate to local nonprofits.

Each of us works in a family business that we’re working to preserve for the next generation. But we’re worried. That’s because Hawaii’s laws make it surprisingly difficult to keep family businesses in the family ….

The reason? Our state is one of the few remaining in our country that require family members who inherit a business to pay an estate tax. In Hawaii, after the owner of a family business dies, their heirs must make a large cash payment, up to 20% of the value of the business, just to hold on to the company….

HB 2653 doesn’t even repeal Hawaii’s estate tax. Under the bill, family members who inherit large bank accounts or big stock portfolios will still be required to pay the estate tax.

Instead, the proposed bill is narrowly targeted to exempt the family business. These include companies like Hamai Appliance, Kamaka Ukulele, Liliha Bakery and McCully Bicycle & Sporting Goods….

KITV: Hawaii lawmakers debate estate tax breaks for family businesses

read … Turning A Lose-Lose Tax Into A Win-Win

Honolulu City Council requested to condemn properties for rail

SA: … HART’s board of directors last month voted on resolutions requesting the City Council consider formal approval of condemnations to grant easement rights to Hawaiian Electric Co. so the utility can clear the path for rail and relocate its above- and below-ground transmission lines, electrical transformers and related equipment along the route. On Thursday , Lori Kahikina, HART’s executive director and CEO, also requested the Council act on the resolutions….

According to the city, the Council has 45 days from April 4 or from notification to approve or not object to the acquisitions. If the Council does not act, then the HART board of directors can authorize acquisition of the easements by eminent domain.

As of Monday, it was not clear if the matter will be up for Council discussion at its next meeting, April 17, as that agenda has not been publicly posted.

During the March 15 HART board meeting, it was noted the main property in question adjoins Marukai Wholesale Mart at 2310 Kamehameha Highway, a spot not far from the city’s Kalihi Transit Center at 611 Middle St., where a segment of the rail project will connect…

read … Honolulu City Council requested to condemn properties for rail | Honolulu Star-Advertiser (staradvertiser.com)

Crews will remove 2nd Maunakea telescope starting April 15

SN: … Decommissioning the UH Hilo Hōkū Keʻa Observatory is a requirement of the Mauna Kea Comprehensive Management Plan. 

“We are one step closer to fulfilling UH’s promise to remove observatories from the summit of Maunakea,” said Greg Chun, UH Hilo CMS Executive Director. “The very detailed process laid out in the CMP requires everyone working on this project to complete cultural training and understand the history and cultural significance of the area. The decommissioning process requires archaeological, cultural, invasive species, and construction monitoring throughout the project to ensure best management practices are being followed. The process also requires three-years of site monitoring post-decommissioning to assess species population and diversity.” 

HTH: Work to decommission 2 Maunakea telescopes to resume

CB: Another Mauna Kea Telescope Will Soon Be Removed

read … Crews will remove 2nd Maunakea telescope starting April 15 (spectrumlocalnews.com)

Slick Maneuver: Company announces plan to donate land for Lahaina fire debris

HNN: … Even though the county announced the parcel next to the Central Maui Landfill in Puunene would be the permanent disposal site for the Lahaina fire debris, the county still needed to acquire it.

Komar Investments, the parent company of Komar Maui Properties, owns approximately 20 acres in the area. They purchased the land from Alexander and Baldwin for $700,000 in 2015.

On Monday, the company announced they will be donating a total of five acres.

“It is going to be a charitable donation. It will be a deed that we hand over and it’s called a quitclaim. We quit. We leave the property, and we hand it over to the county,” Naden said.

Naden said the company only has two stipulations for their gift.

One is that the land be used exclusively for Lahaina fire debris. The other is that any permits or approvals would have to apply to their whole 20 acres.

Komar Maui Properties wanted to develop the landfill for the Lahaina fire debris themselves.

The company has more than 25 years of experience in Hawaii with Pacific Waste on Hawaii Island and Aloha Waste Systems on Maui and Oahu.

“Truth be told, we would like to be the developer. We did ask for that originally, we made it clear that we thought we could do it cheaper, safer, and better,” said Naden.

However, they said the county rejected their offer.

After permitting delays with the county and the council voting last week to acquire the land by eminent domain, Komar Maui Properties decided to donate the land completely….

read … Amid permitting delays, company announces plan to donate land for Lahaina fire debris

Judge Blocks New Appointee From Joining Maui Planning Commission

CB: … Second Circuit Judge Kelsey Kawano on Monday issued a temporary restraining order and a so-called writ of quo warranto against Danny Ray Blackburn, a construction executive with F&H Construction Co., which has offices in California and Maui.  

Blackburn was expected to join the Maui Planning Commission, which makes key countywide decisions over development, at its Tuesday meeting. His name is listed on the agenda.

But court papers filed by Maui attorney Lance Collins on behalf of petitioner Dick Mayer, a retired University of Hawaii Maui College economics professor, challenged his appointment….

The writ of quo warranto is a legal order that challenges a person’s right to hold a public or corporate office. With that granted, Blackburn is ordered to appear before the judge on April 17 for a hearing to address questions and explain why he has the authority to serve on the Planning Commission. He’s also barred from participating in any proceedings or deliberations of the commission for 10 days.

The squabble over Blackburn’s appointment stems from a dispute between Mayor Richard Bissen’s office and the Maui County Council over the timing of when the mayor submitted his selections for citizen nominees to serve on a number of boards and commissions.

At a Feb. 16 meeting, the council’s Government Relations, Ethics and Transparency Committee Chair Nohelani U’u-Hodgins said Bissen missed the deadline for submitting his picks by one day.

Because of the alleged missed deadline, U’u-Hodgins dismissed Bissen’s nominations and said the council would start over…. 

MN: Judge Issues two orders against Maui County Council appointee to planning commission

read … Judge Blocks New Appointee From Joining Maui Planning Commission

Retired State Ag Official Blamed for Invasive Species Spread Returns To The Agency

CB: … Okada worked as an inspector for the DOA’s Plant Quarantine Branch from 1991 until 2005, when she was promoted to branch manager. Okada kept the role until her retirement in 2019.

But Enright effectively sidelined Okada for the last five years she headed up the Plant Quarantine Branch. He placed her on a “special assignment,” removing her from her managerial position. She retained her title, benefits and salary – and salary increases.

Personality clashes, managerial qualms and concerns over Okada’s relationship with nurseries were among the main reasons, Enright said.

The general consensus at the time was that “Okada was hindering the state’s program with invasive species,” Enright said.

The former DOA director said he chose to sideline Okada because firing state employees is a “very time-consuming game.”

And while Okada’s special project was intended to help find replacements for pest-prone imported plants, “she became a non-producing entity” and “languished.”…

read … Retired State Ag Official's Return To The Agency Has Critics Concerned Over Conflicts Of Interest

14 Convictions in 16 Years--Out on the Street, does it again

SA: … Travis Kalani Hong-Ah Nee, 34, was arrested Nov. 17.

A federal grand jury handed down a four count indictment Thursday charging Hong-Ah Nee with conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance; possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance; carrying a firearm in commission of a drug trafficking crime; and being a felon in possession of ammunition.

The government is trying to seize a black privately made firearm pistol with no serial number, 17 rounds of 9mm ammunition, 12 rounds of 7.62mm ammunition, 1 round of 5.56mm ammunition, and 1 round of .223 caliber ammunition.

Hong-Ah Nee has 14 prior state convictions, including felony drug offenses, car theft, burglary and identity theft. He remains in custody at the Federal Detention Center in Honolulu until his trial May 29….

read … Jury indicts felon who allegedly tried to run down HPD officer--14 time loser

Lahaina Fire News:

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