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Kauai battles rifts amid recovery

By Maureen O'Connell

LAST UPDATED: 3:04 a.m. HST, Dec 15, 2013

There are thousands of wild chickens on Kauai.

Their numbers proliferated after Hurricane Iniki blasted the island in 1992, leveling chicken coops along with thousands of homes. The brightly feathered birds evoke a touch of that memory as well as a sense of today's everyday pace of life on the oldest and northernmost island in the Hawaiian chain.

While residents of the state's fourth-largest island — home to about 5 percent of Hawaii's residents — embrace its largely rural past and present, they're now preparing for a future that will include a growing population.

Oahu's population far exceeds that of the neighbor islands, but projected growth rates are much stronger for Kauai, Hawaii island and Maui. Within three decades, according to state officials, only about 60 percent of Hawaii's population will be on Oahu. The rest will be scattered across the island chain.

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser is examining the implications of Hawaii's shifting population growth. This report is the last in a series that previously covered Hawaii island and Maui.

The stories here explore Kauai's recovery in the aftermath of Hurricane Iniki, which includes a thriving yet ever-challenging tourism industry. It also covers matters ranging from the explosion in transient vacation rentals to the emergence of large-operation seed companies.

Earlier this year a proposed new county law placing stiff restrictions on seed businesses' pesticide use and farming of genetically modified crops touched off an emotional battle between supporters and opponents. The drama, which played out over several months before the Kauai County Council, reveals a widening rift among residents as they envision and move toward the island's future.

Maureen O'Connell
Deputy City Editor



Adjusting to growth

The population is steadily climbing on picturesque Kauai, site of dozens of motion pictures. Planning is under way to deal with growth in the areas expected to be impacted the most in years to come: Lihue District and the South Shore. While its stunning natural beauty is a sure-bet draw for tourism, Kauai continues to struggle with an economy still affected by the legacy of Hurricane Iniki and recent recession. • PAGE 4


Hopes high for iconic hotel

The famed Coco Palms Resort charmed visitors and VIPs with its South Pacific kitsch and faux Hawaiian elegance for decades but closed when Hurricane Iniki struck in 1992. While it is best known as the tropical backdrop in Elvis Presley's "Blue Hawaii," the site also has historic and archaeological significance. New plans are in the works to rebuild the aging structure, but it remains to be seen whether they will succeed or fall short. • PAGE10


Ag's controversial conversion

Rows of cornstalks have replaced miles of sugar cane as Kauai's agriculture industry shifts in a controversial direction. Sugar dominated the island for more than a century, but four biotechnology seed companies are now the island's top agricultural concern, providing jobs and economic benefits to the community. Despite ongoing furor over pesticide use and genetically modified crops, the companies remain committed to their work. • PAGE 16


Vexing vacation rentals

The remote beauty of North Shore communities such as Haena, Wai­niha and Hana­lei has made them a popular playground for tourists in the last 15 years. But longtime residents say the proliferation of transient vacation rentals has turned their quiet neighborhoods into visitor destination areas, complete with resortlike traffic, noise and crowds. Locals are not happy with Kauai County's rocky track record in dealing with the problem. • PAGE 22




Timothy Hurley has been a journalist in Hawaii going back to 1990, having first worked as a reporter at the Maui News and then at The Hono­lulu Advertiser. In a photo­journalism career spanning more than 30 years, Star-Advertiser photographer Dennis Oda still enjoys making pictures of the people and places in Hawaii.


Frank Bridgewater

George F. Lee

David Swann

Celia Downes

Michael Rovner

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