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HOOSER: Civic engagement — into the weeds

My telephone was ringing off the hook over the weekend with people calling to let me know the state Department of Transportation (DOT) was “spraying herbicides along the highway between Kapa‘a and Anahola.”

While “ringing off the hook” is a phrase only boomer’s may understand, the individual who witnessed the spraying, and took the time to make the calls, was a millennial.

Mahalo plenty to you my young friend whom I’ve never met. Thank you for caring about the health of your neighbors, and for taking the time to make those calls and encouraging others to do likewise.

We can all learn from her initiative, right out of the box — issuing a prompt, concise, information-based, and clear call to action.

Her message posted on social media for the entire world to see:

“If you have a connection to Kaua‘i please call Lyle Tabata and Edward Sniffen to request that Kaua‘i goes back to cutting and mowing the highways instead of toxic herbicide use.”

She then writes clearly about what she personally witnessed and learned after making a few key telephone calls.

“On February 16, 2024 I noticed the use of an herbicide on the Kaua‘i highways between Kapa‘a and Anahola. There was a very small sign that said, “Warning Herbicide in Use,” and there were trucks driving by spraying. I called the Director of Hawai‘i Department of Transportation (HI DOT), Edward Sniffen, who told me that this was authorized by the Kaua‘i District office, specifically Lawrence Dill. Dill’s voicemail indicates he is on leave and to contact Lyle Tibet at (808) 241-3032.

Lyle Tabata told me that they are using an herbicide called Finale, which was approved late last year and is being applied on the south and east sides of the island so far. He claimed it is safe so I asked him for the research he has that indicates its safety and he said he could not comment. Tabata said there were many public service announcements made on County of Kaua‘i Facebook page, Hawai‘i DOT Facebook page, and the newspaper. I was unable to find these announcements.”

The tone of her message is calm, professional and straightforward. She is not personal, snarky or sarcastic, and does not slam or throw Mr. Sniffen, Mr. Dill, or Mr. Tabata, under the bus.

Next she states the facts in language we can understand.

“The label for the herbicide Finale indicates that it is hazardous to humans, animals, water safety and the environment. It requires the use of personal protective equipment that must be properly disposed of, equipment that every resident and visitor driving by the highways while they are applying it, is not wearing.”

She then provides links to her research, and concludes with the specific information needed for direct community engagement.

“If you feel concerned about the issues posed by herbicide use in public areas on the island of Kaua‘i … please contact:”

Lyle Tabata (County of Kauai) 808- 241-3032

Edward Sniffen HDOT Director 808-587-2160

Nadine Nakamura (Kaua‘i Representative) 808-586-8435 or

Ronald Kouchi (Senator for Kaua‘i County) 808-586-6030 or

It’s textbook civic engagement and I applaud her for taking the initiative. As a result, I’ll certainly be making the calls and encourage others to do the same.

And to those who say we must use toxic herbicides to control roadside weeds, please note both Hawai‘i Island and Maui have stopped using such chemicals on their county roads.

In an official statement on 06-21-2023 Hawai‘i County Public Works Director Steve Pause said, ”The Department has been working for some time to develop alternative means and methods to achieve maintenance of County infrastructure without the reliance on chemical herbicides. We believe this day has arrived.”

Perhaps it’s time for Kaua‘i County to join Maui and Hawai‘i Island … and together we can nudge the SDOT to follow.


Gary Hooser served eight years in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kaua‘i County Council. He presently writes on Hawai‘i Policy and Politics at
Source: The Garden Island

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