Restoration Ecology in Hawaii

A Lesson in Environmental Leadership
by -- March 20th, 2013

A man always has two reasons for doing anything: a good reason and the real reason. – J.P. Morgan

On top of the Hanalei Ridge with Eric Crispin (back row, far right) and Michelle Swartman (front row, far left) of Ohana Real Estate Investors

Just outside of Hanalei, nestled in the back of a strip mall, sits a nondescript office that contains an ambitious and elaborate plan. It’s a plan that promises the revitalization of a damaged wetland inspired by the traditional ahupua’a, and the restoration of an ancient fishpond that will bring ecological and educational awareness to the community. It’s also a plan that promises the development of a hotel and 34 homes that will perch atop a ridge overlooking the Hanalei Bay and River. This contentious plan, known as the Hanalei Plantation Resort, has pit the developer (Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay) against members of the Hanalei community and the Save Hanalei Ridge coalition. You can read more about the proposed development and the controversy from Kauai’s local newspaper The Garden Island.

Our group had the opportunity to meet separately with representatives of the Hanalei Plantation Resort, as well as vocal opponents of the development – The Hanalei Watershed Hui. Without any real stake in the proposed development I opted to keep an open mind, place myself in the role of a neutral party and hear out each side. I thought this would help me sort through the issues facing the ecosystem and community; instead, I came away from the experience with my own perspective on leadership.

Along the Hanalei River below the Hanalei Ridge with Maka’ala Ka’aumoano (back row, fourth from left), Executive Director of the Hanalei Watershed Hui

Interestingly enough, both sides share the same beliefs i.e., we’re doing what’s right for the land, we’re strengthening the community and we’re respecting our cultural heritage. I easily identified the merits of each side’s position that resonated with my own belief systems. Yet, ultimately, I found myself swayed more by the messenger than the message. In the end, it all boiled down to a sense of connection and an answer to the question:  Who would I want to join on the Hanalei Ridge to stage a house or stage a protest?

While it’s easy to pick one side of an argument, it’s much harder to choose who to follow. As for me, it turns out honesty and inspiration guide my choice in environmental leaders…that, and an ability to give me a hug at the end of the day.

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