Aila: Right Choice For A Tough Job

Ron Mizutani
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Wednesday - January 05, 2011
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William Aila Jr. has been a longtime community leader on Oahu’s Leeward coast, helping to preserve Hawaii’s natural resources, especially the ocean.

When munitions washed ashore, littering the pristine Waianae coastline, it was Aila who challenged the Army to study the health effects the chemicals had on humans.

When dolphin tour operators and local fishermen were locked in a battle of parameters, it was Aila who provided a calming voice and challenged the Department of Land and Natural Resources to be more involved and more sensitive to the community’s concerns.

Keep in mind, Aila was a DLNR employee serving in its boating and ocean recreation division as the Waianae harbormaster.

He also led the way in the effort to regulate long-line fishing and lobbied against shark finning.

But it wasn’t just ocean issues. Aila fought for the protection of Makua Valley, questioning the effect military training has had on the area that some consider sacred land.

Aila has never shied away from controversial issues, and has been a passionate voice for the voiceless.

Of course, that passion has ruffled feathers in the past, and not everyone agrees with his views.

But he has always been fair. So when Gov. Neil Abercrombie nominated Aila to direct the state DLNR, you could almost hear both cheers and jeers coming from the community.

Aila ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic primary for governor in 2006, but he’ll be the first to tell you that he is not a politician.

He’ll also tell you that he is more than just a Hawaiian activist.

Aila was born and raised in Waianae, graduating from Waianae High School in 1976. He received a degree in tropical agriculture from the University of Hawaii-Manoa in 1980 and has been Waianae’s harbormaster for nearly two decades.

His resume is impressive, to say the least. He has served on numerous boards and councils, including the Hawaii Community Development Authority, Waianae Coast Weed and Seed Steering Committee, Makaha Elementary School Community Management board, Waianae Coast Neighborhood board, Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center board, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve Council, and he was an advocate for the creation of the Papahanaumokuakea National Marine Monument.

Abercrombie says Aila’s knowledge of issues makes him a natural fit to lead the DLNR, and even spoke of his “calmness of spirit.”

“Whether he’s with you or against you, or whether he agrees with you or disagrees with you, you can count on dealing with someone who respects you, who respects the process, who respects himself,” said Abercrombie at the time of his cabinet nominees announcement.

The Sierra Club of Hawaii also believes Aila, a former Sierra Club executive committee member, is an outstanding choice for the job.

Aila and other cabinet nominees are subject to confirmation by the state Senate.

There are dozens of hot issues awaiting the next director of the state’s largest department, which is responsible for managing more than half of Hawaii’s land and the fourth largest coastline in the United States. It is a high-profile job that requires local knowledge, incredible patience and political savvy.

The DLNR’s mission is to “enhance, protect, conserve and manage Hawaii’s unique and limited natural, cultural and historic resources held in public trust for current and future generations of visitors and the people of Hawaii nei in partnership with others from the public and private sectors.”

Ocean users and business leaders are anxiously waiting to see if the governor has found the right person for the job.

Many believe he has.

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