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Editorial: Military COVID-19 counts; Kapalama Canal renewal

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Some much-needed light peeked out this week from the hazy zone of coronavirus cases among Hawaii’s military.

On Tuesday, it was revealed that military members and their families in Hawaii represent about 7% of total COVID-19 cases here. That amounted to roughly 204 cases, using the state’s 2,914 total as of Aug. 6, the day the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command chief cited the percentage in a memo about coronavirus mitigation efforts.

That tidbit was one of the few details publicly known about the prevalence of COVID-19 among Hawaii’s military community — and more public disclosure should be insisted upon, especially now, with overall cases on the rise and growing attention to clusters.

One laudable development: revocation of the quarantine waiver for family members of troops coming on official orders. This was a questionable exemption from the start, when granted in the spring. On Aug. 7, citing the state’s overall “surge in COVID-19 cases,” Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, Hawaii’s director of emergency management, closed the loophole so that incoming military family members must now adhere to the state’s 14-day self-quarantine.

In Hawaii, there are about 43,000 active-duty members, 9,600 Guard and Reserve members, 60,000 dependents and 20,000 military employees.

By mutual consent, the military’s daily coronavirus cases are reported to the state Department of Health, which are meshed into the state’s daily reports. Operational security is cited for the lack of specificity — but that reasoning has gotten increasingly troubling, with reports of positive COVID-19 cases at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and instances of military-linked scofflaw gatherings. Among these: reports of revelers at July Fourth beach parties, and about three dozen purported soldiers — maskless and not physically distancing — photographed three weeks ago at West Oahu’s White Plains beach.

In line with Hawaii’s 14-day quarantine for trans-Pacific arrivals, incoming active-duty military members are under restriction-of-movement orders and should be adhering to all anti-COVID laws here. Similarly, for the community good, more public information, not less, aids in clamping down on risky behavior and identifying hot spots. That’s what’s needed for public safety — from military and civilians alike.

Kapalama Canal renewal

From deep in our COVID-19 dsytopia, the city’s vision for redeveloping the banks of the grimy Kapalama Canal in Kalihi seems like a mirage: Beautiful blue water, spacious boardwalks and bridges, crowds of people biking, walking, exercising and playing together, not a mask in sight.

Still, it’s good to plan ahead, and with optimism. The project combines all the major touchstones of forward-thinking city planning: affordable housing, urban renewal, climate- change resiliency, overdue infrastructure improvements and a cleaner environment, as well as the rail transit project.

The city would spend an estimated $80 million to transform the 81-year-old Kapalama Canal — a flood-control channel once used by the homeless to dump their garbage, until the city put up a chain-link fence — into an attractive community gathering place. The canal’s mile-long banks would become a landscaped linear park, with picnic pavilions and public art.

It suggests the recent successful transformation of another industrial zone, Kakaako, into a place with chic restaurants, shops and lots of apartments in shiny new high-rises. But this one would be built on the area’s culture and history, said Harrison Rue, the city’s community building and transit-oriented-development (TOD) administrator — “a local working families Kakaako.” It’s about time.

The project should be a magnet for much-needed high-density housing. Developers, including Kamehameha Schools, are interested in building homes in the area, which will have a rail station nearby. Of course, housing in a TOD zone needs to be affordable. That’s one of the main reasons taxpayers are investing $9 billion in a train: to give working-class folks a decent place to live, with easy access to reliable transportation, in an increasingly expensive Oahu.

The canal itself sorely needs cleaning up. The waterway would be dredged to reduce sediment and improve water quality, according to the draft environmental impact statement released last week. The project also would anticipate 3.2 feet of sea level rise by 2050 by including an out-of-sight floodwall on both sides of the canal.

It’s an ambitious endeavor. The state and city share jurisdiction over the waterway itself, and multiple landowners along the canal could complicate efforts to develop a cohesive, thoughtful makeover of the area.

It’s hoped that every major stakeholder that stands to benefit from the redevelopment will be a good partner — through investment, yes, but also through sincere cooperation with the community, incorporating its interests and desires.