State / In Brief

The Associated Press

Homelessness initiatives criticized

HONOLULU — A report by Honolulu Auditor Edwin Young criticized the city’s initiatives to combat homelessness, saying Mayor Kirk Caldwell and his administration are lacking benchmarks and mismanaging programs aimed at sheltering people.

The 75-page audit submitted to the City Council on Tuesday also pointed to “a disconnect between the homelessness priority for city leaders and the resources allocated” to the Department of Community Services, which oversees housing programs.

The audit praised the city’s investment of more than $7.5 million in general fund money to support three programs, but questioned whether that can continue using general funds.

Councilman Ernie Martin said that he was disappointed by the findings of the report because the administration and council have made homelessness a priority. Martin said that he is bothered by the lack of coordination between the city and state.


Suit seeks stronger rules for fuel tanks

HONOLULU — The Sierra Club of Hawaii is suing to compel the state to develop new rules for underground fuel storage tanks like those that leaked at the Navy’s Red Hill facility.

Director Marti Townsend said that existing rules don’t comply with state law and should be rewritten.

Deputy Attorney General Wade Hargrove said that the state Department of Health is already drafting stronger rules.

Senior Environmental Court Judge Jeffrey Crabtree said Wednesday he will aim to rule by late October on whether to dismiss the case.

The Navy has 20 giant storage tanks near Pearl Harbor. The 70-year-old tanks sit on an aquifer critical to Honolulu’s water supply.

The Navy in 2015 signed an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state to upgrade and fix the tanks over 20 years.


Cemetery gets new office, visitor center

HONOLULU — The Department of Veterans Affairs is putting the finishing touches on a new administration office and visitor center for the Punchbowl cemetery.

The 7,462-square-foot building is on a hillside outside the main gate of the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.

“Punchbowl is a unique location to start with,” said Jim Horton, director of the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. “But this location and just the architecture of the new building really makes it a standout, and the community should be very proud.”

Joshua Mathis, resident engineer on the project, said that the two-story building is built on 123 concrete piers. The old offices were in a former caretaker’s quarters built in 1949.

Gene Maestas, a Punchbowl spokesman, said that the desire to provide more niche spaces for the cemetery’s columbarium was the main reason for the office relocation.

The new building is part of a nearly $30 million project started in 2015 to create the new columbarium, offices and a memorial wall.

Seven of Punchbowl’s 27 employees will work in the new building. It will be a hub for visitors, families and cemetery representatives, officials said.


Lawyer: Turkish man to plead guilty

HONOLULU — A Turkish man accused of causing a flight disturbance that prompted fighter jets to escort the plane to Honolulu is planning to plead guilty to interfering with a flight crew, his defense attorney said Wednesday.

Anil Uskanli is expected to enter the plea in federal court in Honolulu on Tuesday, said lawyer Richard Sing. A judge last week ruled that Uskanli is mentally competent for trial and must be held without bail because he poses a danger to the community.

Uskanli tried to get to the front of the plane during the American Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Honolulu in May, according to court documents. Crew members feared his laptop contained explosives.

A flight attendant blocked his path with a drink cart, and he was duct-taped to his seat until the plane landed. The Hawaii National Guard scrambled two fighter jets to escort the plane to Oahu.

Uskanli raised red flags at Los Angeles International Airport before the flight took off: He had purchased a ticket at an airline counter in the middle of the night with no luggage and had been arrested after opening a door to a restricted area of the airport.

Because Uskanli’s student visa has been revoked, he faces deportation to Turkey.

A federal judge ordered a mental competency evaluation after Sing requested it.


Army ends search for wreckage

HONOLULU — The Army has ended active efforts to locate remains and retrieve wreckage after a helicopter crashed off Oahu last month.

The 25th Infantry Division said Thursday that officials wrapped up the search after concluding it was unlikely to find additional remains. Investigators also determined they had gathered enough evidence for a thorough probe into the cause of the crash.

All five crew members aboard were killed when the UH-60 helicopter went down Aug. 15.