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    Thursday, April 9, 2009

    CNN - Island DIY: Kauai residents don't wait for state to repair road

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    Island DIY: Kauai residents don't wait for state to repair road

    Their livelihood was being threatened, and they were tired of waiting for government help, so business owners and residents on Hawaii's Kauai island pulled together and completed a $4 million repair job to a state park -- for free.

    Polihale State Park has been closed since severe flooding destroyed an access road to the park and damaged facilities in December.

    The state Department of Land and Natural Resources had estimated that the damage would cost $4 million to fix, money the agency doesn't have, according to a news release from department Chairwoman Laura Thielen.

    "It would not have been open this summer, and it probably wouldn't be open next summer," said Bruce Pleas, a local surfer who helped organize the volunteers. "They said it would probably take two years. And with the way they are cutting funds, we felt like they'd never get the money to fix it."

    And if the repairs weren't made, some business owners faced the possibility of having to shut down.

    Ivan Slack, co-owner of Napali Kayak, said his company relies solely on revenue from kayak tours and needs the state park to be open to operate. The company jumped in and donated resources because it knew that without the repairs, Napali Kayak would be in financial trouble.

    "If the park is not open, it would be extreme for us, to say the least," he said. "Bankruptcy would be imminent. How many years can you be expected to continue operating, owning 15-passenger vans, $2 million in insurance and a staff? For us, it was crucial, and our survival was dependent on it. That park is the key to the sheer survival of the business."

    So Slack, other business owners and residents made the decision not to sit on their hands and wait for state money that many expected would never come. Instead, they pulled together machinery and manpower and hit the ground running March 23.

    And after only eight days, all of the repairs were done, Pleas said. It was a shockingly quick fix to a problem that may have taken much longer if they waited for state money to funnel in.

    "We can wait around for the state or federal government to make this move, or we can go out and do our part," Slack said. "Just like everyone's sitting around waiting for a stimulus check, we were waiting for this but decided we couldn't wait anymore."

    Thielen has been waiting, too. She wants the legislature to approve her Recreation Renaissance project, a $240 million booster shot to help fix parks across the state. Without it, at least five state parks may be forced to close, and there would be no emergency repair money to fix Polihale State Park.

    "We shouldn't have to do this, but when it gets to a state level, it just gets so bureaucratic, something that took us eight days would have taken them years," said Troy Martin of Martin Steel, who donated machinery and steel for the repairs. "So we got together -- the community -- and we got it done."

    The park is a fixture on the west side of the island and a favorite spot for many in the area, but it's also a hub for tourists.

    "Tourism is our lifeblood. It's what pays all of our bills," Slack said. "The money that pours in comes from tourism is really an important factor for everyone here in Hawaii, and it's such an important time to encourage tourism."

    And it's an important time to keep jobs, which were threatened if the park had to remain closed. In February, Kauai's unemployment rate was at 9.1 percent, up from 2.8 percent during the same time in 2008, according to Hawaii's Department of Labor.

    "I think it's crucial to say the doors are open, everyone is ready," Slack said. "So when one of the most important parks in Hawaii is closed, it really changes things."

    Now, because of their hard work, volunteers hope they'll be ready to send that positive message -- right in time for the tourist season.

    Slack said he likes to have business up and running by April 15, and the season gets busy around May 1.

    The business owners and residents are hopeful that their generous contributions in time and resources mean the park should officially open soon. Pleas says they have only to get the new bridge certified and do minor cleanup.

    "A lot of people are quietly sitting by, waiting for it to open," Slack said. "This really this is one of the nicest parks in the state and in all of Hawaii, in the entire state parks department. Now, hopefully, those people get their wish."

    Portfolio Mobile - 44, Day 79: Quiet Time

    44, Day 79: Quiet Time

    An ongoing log of the daily activities of the 44th president of the United States during his first 100 days:

    -After spending eight days away from Washington on a trip through western Europe, into Turkey, and finally stopping in Iraq, President Obama stayed out of the public's (and the press's) site site today. And his press secretary, Robert Gibbs, didn't hold his regular daily briefing. So what did the 44th president do on his first day back in town? According to Politico, "Playing catch-up, aides say. One White House aide says Obama is spending the day in closed-door meetings with staffers. His main topic, of course, is the economy."

    -On the plane ride home, Obama called the coach of the North Carolina Tarheels and congratulated him on winning the NCAA basketball tournament. A huge b-ball fan, the president had picked North Carolina to be in the finals (it was the only one of his top four teams to make it to the final games). With his choice and the rest of his bracket, Obama himself ranked in the top 20 percent of more than one million brackets filed online at ESPN, the sports network's website said.

    -Another in a series of slideshows on, this one chronicling Obama's stopover in Iraq on Tuesday.

    by J. Jennings Moss

    Sources: The White House, Politico, and the Washington Post.Related Links
    44, Day 18: What Does a Catastrophe Look Like?
    44, Day Three
    44, Day 28: Where's Click and Clack When You Need Them?

    (c) 2007 Portfolio. Powered by mLogic Media, Crisp Wireless, Inc.

    CNN - Pirates have not harmed captive captain, company says

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    Pirates have not harmed captive captain, company says

    A day after the Maersk Alabama was hijacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia, the ship's captain "remains hostage but is unharmed," Maersk spokesman Kevin Speers said Thursday morning.

    "The safe return of the captain is our foremost priority," Speers said.

    Capt. Richard Phillips is being held on a lifeboat -- which is believed to be near the Maersk Alabama -- by the pirates who hijacked the ship. The U.S. Navy has called FBI negotiators to help negotiate his release, according to FBI spokesman Bill Carter.

    The pirates reneged on their agreement to exchange Phillips for one pirate who had been captured by the crew members, according to the second officer of the ship, Ken Quinn. The pirate was released unharmed, according to Quinn who spoke to CNN on Wednesday via a satellite call.

    Speaking at a news conference Thursday morning, Speers said the U.S. Navy "is in command of the situation."

    "We are in regular contact with the Alabama," he said from Maersk Line Ltd.'s headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia. "The ship remains at a safe distance as instructed by the Navy. We are coordinating with the Navy and all the governmental organizations involved in this crisis."

    Maersk Line Ltd. -- a subsidiary of the Danish shipping company, Maersk Line -- owns and operates the Maersk Alabama.

    A U.S. Navy destroyer, the USS Bainbridge, is now in position near the lifeboat believed to be carrying Phillips and the pirates. But there has been no official confirmation of the tiny vessel's whereabouts since early Thursday morning.

    The Maersk Alabama is back under the control of the remaining 20-member crew. They said they are trying to talk to the pirates and effect some sort of exchange to get their captain back.

    For its part, Maersk is doing everything it can "to increase the chance of (a) peaceful outcome," Speers said Thursday.

    "We are encouraged that most of the crew is safe, they have been resilient and courageous throughout this crisis," he said. "But we will remain on watch, staffing our situation room and our family hotline until this situation is resolved and the captain is safely returned."

    The Maersk Alabama was on its way to the Kenyan port of Mombasa loaded with food aid when the pirates attacked it Wednesday morning. It was the first time in recent history that pirates targeted a U.S.-flagged ship.

    The ship was some 350 miles off the coast of Somalia, a distance that used to be considered safe from pirate attacks.

    The U.S. Navy issued a warning several days ago to ships in the area warning them that pirates were increasingly operating farther and farther offshore.

    Quinn told CNN that the pirates were armed with AK-47 assault rifles. The ship's crew carried no weapons.

    Crew members managed to take one of the four pirates hostage, Quinn said. The crew -- apparently minus the captain -- locked themselves in the compartment that contains the ship's steering gear, where they remained for about 12 hours with their captive, whom Quinn said they had tied up.

    The three other pirates "got frustrated because they couldn't find us," he said.

    The pirates had scuttled the small boat they used to reach the ship, Quinn said, so Phillips offered them the Alabama's 28-foot lifeboat and some money.

    Crew members agreed to exchange their captive pirate in exchange for Phillips, Quinn said, but the pirates reneged on their agreement.

    "We returned him, but they didn't return the captain," Quinn said.

    It is common for the crews of merchant vessels to travel through the area unarmed, despite the risk of pirate attacks, experts have said. An armed crew could provoke a firefight that would endanger the crew's lives or its cargo, which often contains flammable or explosive material.

    John Reinhart, chief executive and president of Maersk Line Ltd., said the crew can try to outrun the pirate boats or turn fire hoses on anyone trying to board the ship, "but we do not carry arms."

    The vessel was carrying relief supplies for USAID, the U.N. World Food Program and the Christian charities WorldVision and Catholic Relief Services. The U.N. agency said its portion of the cargo included nearly 4,100 metric tons of corn-soya blend bound for Somalia and Uganda, and another 990 metric tons of vegetable oil for refugees in Kenya.

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