A Closer Look: Eileen O'hara

UH Hilo instructor aims for victory in Council District 4 race

News Writer Valentina Martinez

Eileen O'hara

“One thing that we have not managed to do well is transition from a sugar plantation situation into diversified ag…” — Eileen O’Hara

Q: In what capacity do you serve UH Hilo?

A: “[I am currently part of the] adjunct faculty. and I teach at College of Agriculture [CAFNRM] and the College of Business and Economics (CoBE). I’ve been doing that off and on since 1997. Even when I was working jobs, occasionally I would come in and teach a course. By 2013, I was teaching full-time [and I have] been covering up to five courses a semester, when three is full-time.”

Q: What are your plans for local agriculture revival?

A: “My degree coming out of UH Hilo in ‘91 or ‘92 was in agriculture, with an emphasis in business and economics. I also had an undergraduate in horticulture before I started here from San Francisco City College… One thing that we have not managed to do well is transition from a sugar plantation situation into diversified [agriculture]… The road is another issue, too, because road maintenance used to be done by the sugar companies for these old cane roads. Many are in limbo now, meaning the county hasn’t claimed ownership and no one is really maintaining [it], and it’s very hard when you can’t get to your farm.”

Q: At the recent political forum at UH Hilo, you agreed to support a glyphosate pesticide ban. Could you elaborate on that?

A: “Research has shown us that this is a material that we really shouldn’t be exposing ourselves to and it shouldn’t be in the environment… you have to recognize whatever you use and how it affects the pH soil balance and minerals in the soil so that has to be understood… We can do mechanical control of weeds [roadside] and that would be my preference and would take care of many of the situations. Where mechanical needs is not applicable there are some herbicides that are less toxic to the environment… I am not opposed to the selective use of herbicide when it’s done properly, for instance with albizia, when it’s done properly it kills the whole tree forever, it doesn’t regrow, it’s a one time shot. I wouldn’t advocate for doing this if it had to be sprayed every six months and so on. Each situation needs to be considered for it’s own merits.”

Q: At the forum, and on your website, you say that one of your main priorities is more road safety on Highway 130. What are your ideas?

A: “I will be the representative who will call the state and ask for new striping. At night in the rain, that bypass around Keaau which was built 10 to 15 years ago... hasn’t been restriped [with the reflectors] since it was put in. It’s terrible. You can’t even see the middle of the road, it’s quite scary; it’s dark and rainy and you can’t see and that’s the kind of conditions we deal with most often… They are looking at an increase in the island population by 15 percent over the next 25 years…. It’s likely that the majority increase is going to occur in the underserved areas of the island, like lower Puna, where infrastructure is already deficient... We need an alternative access road into lower Puna for the times when [Highway] 130 is closed. And in the 35 years I’ve lived here, that has happened dozens of times.”

Q: Along with your plans for road safety improvements, what are some ideas to increase bus accessibility?

A: “One thing that would be great to work on and is already moving forward slightly is doing a transportation hub in Pāhoa. There are some properties that could be purchased by the county that are not too expensive that could establish a transportation hub for buses… a big problem in our district is there's just not enough working public and expanding the bus system that we have could help… It would be nice to have better buses that don’t break down so often so we can maintain a real schedule... We took a lot of second-hand buses from Honolulu. It would be better to invest in hydrogen buses.”

Q: What are your thoughts on improving police response time?

A: “The only police station for the entire Puna district is before you get into Pāhoa… We now have over 40,000 people in Puna but we are treating Puna as one district for resources so it only has the one service station that is responsible for responding all the way to Kalapana, all the way to Volcano, it’s ridiculous. The best thing I could possibly do to alleviate the lack of police response is to ensure that a full-service police station is set up for upper Puna.”

Editor’s Note: This interview was condensed due to spacing.