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Sen. Brian Schatz addresses Ala Wai Canal, climate change, abortion during town hall

  • By Kat Wade / Special to the Star-Advertiser

    Senator Brian Schatz responds to a question about abortion at Tuesday's town hall.


    U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz held a public town hall tonight to give updates on his work in D.C. and to answer questions at Washington Middle School.

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said it wasn’t possible to pause a $345 million project aimed at safeguarding Waikiki and other Honolulu neighborhoods from catastrophic flooding from the Ala Wai Canal without risking federal funding, during a town hall Tuesday evening at Washington Middle School in Honolulu.

Schatz, who spent most of the time answering questions from constituents, also touched on why he didn’t sign on to the Green New Deal, despite his long record of environmental advocacy, recent state laws severely restricting abortions and talk of impeaching President Donald Trump, among other topics. About 250 people turned out for the event, Schatz’s third town hall this year.

Congress appropriated $345 million last year to the Ala Wai Canal project, with the state expected to repay one-third of that.

Schatz, in a response to a question from a resident, said he had inquired about whether it was possible to delay the project and was told the answer is no. He said that he believed that there had been misinformation about the plan’s potential impacts.

“The reason that I’m passionate about the Ala Wai flood control project is that climate change is upon us,” he said, adding that the risk of Hawaii experiencing major flooding is only expected to increase.

The Army Corps of Engineers spent more than a decade working on a plan to prevent a major flood of the Ala Wai Canal, which could be caused by a rare 100-year rain event. However, the project has attracted push back this year from some residents who say they were caught off guard by the Army Corps’ plan and are concerned about the effect on upstream homes, as well as the visual impacts.

The Army Corps’ plan includes building a 4-foot concrete wall around the canal and placing six debris and detention basins along the watershed that flow into Waikiki, among other safeguards.

Army Corps’ studies have warned that a major flood in which the Ala Wai Canal overtopped its banks could devastate Waikiki, the state’s economic engine, as well as put human lives at risk.

Schatz, an advocate of renewable energy and climate change policies, also talked about why he didn’t sign on to the Green New Deal, a resolution proposed by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).

Even though it was only a resolution, without the force of law, the measure received a flood of media attention and became a source of partisan bickering.

“I just really didn’t think it was ready for prime time, quite frankly,” said Schatz.

He said that there needs to be a series of bills and executive actions, as well as efforts at the state and local levels, to seriously address climate change.

“To define your support for climate action as supporting a resolution at the very beginning of the process, I think is missing the point,” said Schatz.

Schatz also reassured constituents that in Hawaii there is strong political support for abortion rights as states on the mainland pass restrictive abortion laws.

“As terrifying as this is for women nationwide, we have a strong Legislature and a progressive Legislature,” he said.

He said a recent Alabama law that largely bans abortions “is so extreme that it is sort of beyond people’s comprehension.”

The law has no exceptions for rape or incest and doctors could face prison terms of up to 99 years.

More than half a dozen other states have passed similarly restrictive bans this year, setting up major legal fights over abortion rights in the courts.

Schatz also addressed the debate over moving to impeach Trump, saying that he though it “extremely unwise to take impeachment off the table.”

While not going so far as to say Trump should be impeached, he said that possible impeachable offenses could go beyond what is in the Mueller report, highlighting potential transgressions of the Constitution’s emoluments clause.

“Jimmy Carter divested from his peanut farm for a reason: because we don’t want to worry about a president who has side deals,” said Schatz. “And this president has more than side deals.”

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