End-of-life vehicles: How a Hawaii lawmaker turned a good idea into reality

End-of-life vehicles: How a Hawaii lawmaker turned a good idea into reality

A resident of Hawaiian Paradise Park on the Big Island, Greggor Ilagan often saw cars, vans and trucks dumped on the same curb along Makuu Drive as he drove in and out of Puna.

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It’s a statewide problem, but one that’s especially pronounced in Puna, a vast rural region the size of Oahu and somewhat bordering on the Wild West. It is estimated that about 8,000 vehicles are abandoned in Hawaii each year, about 1,620 of them reported in the Big Island in 2019 alone.

Later, when Ilagan volunteered to help clean up the community in the area, he was surprised to encounter many with more than 200 abandoned vehicles. He talked to local residents and owners’ associations about the problem and what could be done about it.

That was two years ago, when Ilagan, 35, campaigned for the District 4 seat in the Hawaii House of Representatives. He won and started his freshman year, which was swallowed up by the freshmen trying to learn the ropes of the legislative system.

By his sophomore year, Ilagan felt he knew enough to ask Henry Aquino, the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, if he could “put my weight behind a problem,” as he recalled. Aquino gave Ilagan, his vice-chairman of the commission, the green light.

“And that gave me all the clout I needed to bring people together,” he said.

State Representative Greggor IlaganState Representative Greggor Ilagan
State Representative Greggor Ilagan. BRAD-*-GODA PHOTOGRAPHY

By the end of this year’s session on May 5, Ilagan had managed to achieve what is rare for a new legislator: he passed four bills, all designed to prevent vehicles from being unceremoniously thrown away and then tossed for parts and let it rust.

But it took a lot of work and study, talking to voters and contacting government officials to learn about the various state, state, and federal laws regarding abandonment.

Compromises would have to be made in the final language of the legislation to also allay officials’ concerns. And Ilagan’s bills are still pending consideration by Governor David Ige, who has until June 27 to announce his veto intent.

But Ilagan is already turning his attention to another issue important in Puna – agricultural theft – and he thinks the lessons he learned by pushing the car bills will be instructive. He also wants to work more on the abandonment issue to cover things not covered in his four bills, which is more financial support for provincial programs.

“This package is a clear first step forward, but there are still issues that have not been addressed,” he explained. “I believe we need some sort of standard or goal statewide with our abandoned vehicle programs.”

The problem

Disposing of cars is not a new problem for the islands. As early as 1999, the Los Angeles Times ran a story, “Kauai’s end-of-life cars are slowly turning ‘Garden Isle’ into ‘Garbage Isle’.”

The ditching of motor vehicles has become so ubiquitous that a Big Island reporter for Civil Beat noted in a 2019 article that it was much easier to spot one than Hawaii’s state bird, the nene.

Landfilling is only the first step, as the vehicles are transformed over time as the windows are smashed, the wheels and catalytic converter removed for scrap value, and even set on fire. Toxic substances such as fuel, oil and coolant also leak.

“When it rains, these substances end up in our waterways”, according to the Hawaii County Department of Environmental Management website† “Mercury is particularly dangerous, even in very small amounts, because when released into the atmosphere and returned to Earth as rainfall, it endangers aquatic life and public health.”

Abandoned Vehicles Big IslandAbandoned Vehicles Big Island
If left long enough, say people working on the abandoned vehicle problem, most end up burned like this one left along a road on the outskirts of Pahoa in Puna. Jason Armstrong/Civil Beat/2019

Even the tires can be a problem – “breeding grounds for mosquitoes that transmit various diseases.”

While investigating the problem, Ilagan discovered that each province has a different process and ability to handle the dilapidated rust buckets.

For example, on Maui, the Junk Vehicle Cleanup Tool allows residents to dispose of two vehicles per year for free. Kauai does not pay for towing costs, but Oahu joins takedown — a model Ilagan would love to see adopted statewide.

The departments also differ in the way they are housed and staffed. Hawaii County, for example, handles things through a solid waste division and a recycling division.

Why that matters, Ilagan found, is that any solution proposed by the state must conform to existing provincial rules.

“It’s not like every island is doing this through the DMV,” he said.

The problem of abandonment also differs from island to island.

On busy Oahu, there is a lack of space to store the towed cars, even as the city requires tow companies to remove abandoned cars from public roads within three days or be fined. Home to several military installations, Oahu is further hampered by a federal law that prohibits the city from auctioning a conscript’s car without the owner’s permission.

The solution

Of the package of bills, Ilagan said: House account 1413 is the one with “the most teeth” and thus will have the greatest impact in deterring future abandoned vehicles.

It would enable the county’s finance directors to require registered abandoned vehicle owners to pay all outstanding charges incurred in disposing of the vehicles.

If the fees are not paid, the owners may not be allowed to receive proof of registration or complete a transfer of ownership. They can also see that their driver’s license is suspended, revoked or not renewed.

“We realized that what was problematic in offices dealing with abandoned vehicles is that the repeat offenders are the culprits with the most abandoned vehicles in the community,” Ilagan explained, referring to junkyard owners or so-called chop shops where vehicles are dismantled for components. “About 20% of owners cause 80% of the problems. If they are going to leave vehicles in the community, people can report it, and with this law we can hold these people accountable.”

House account 1414 is an addition to HB 1413 in that it subjects the registered owner of an abandoned vehicle to a graduated penalty system. A fourth and any future violations will demand a $1,000 fine.

The other two bills in Ilagan’s package ask for the following:

  • House account 1411 would require both buyers and sellers to provide signatures and addresses on vehicle transfers. Currently, only the seller’s signature on the title is required, sometimes resulting in fraudulent property claims. A fine would also be imposed for providing false information.
  • House account 1412 requires counties to provide a minimum distance an abandoned vehicle must be moved within a specified time frame to avoid being towed.

To get his accounts approved, peer buy-in was critical. All four measures were passed almost unanimously.

Ilagan was also helped by the four mayors of the province.

In shared testimony on HB 1413, Maui’s Mike Victorino, Oahu’s Rick Blangiardi, Kauai’s Derek Kawakami, and Hawaii’s Mitch Roth wrote, “Operating funds issued per year by province vary, but can average about $1,000,000, due to additional costs of clearing vehicles, special clearances and related costs.This measure will significantly help the provinces recoup the costs of removing abandoned and derelict vehicles from public roads and properties.”

How did Ilagan reach the mayors? connections.

Ilagan, who at age 26 became the youngest person ever elected to the Hawaii County Council, knew Roth from his past work as an attorney general and their shared interest in agricultural theft.

Ilagan also knew Victorino when then-Maui County Councilman was part of the Hawaii State Association of Counties. Ilagan also got to know Mason Chock, vice chair of the Kauai County Council and a leader at HSAC. The group supported all four bills.

A video made for Honolulu’s Department of Customer Service:

Ilagan also consulted with his own voters. At town halls around Puna, he polled what their top priorities were. The abandoned vehicle problem was in the top five, along with alternative routes in and out of Puna, restoration of a boat ramp at Pohoiki, increased homeowner supervision and widening of Highway 130, a vital roadway.

Ilagan acknowledges that his accounts won’t solve the problem of abandoned vehicles like waving a magic wand and “every time someone drove past a big, ugly, broken, and gutted abandoned vehicle, that person could use that wand to clear it.” make. disappear.”

Those words, in fact, come from a press release issued by Ilagan’s office in January when the bills were first introduced.

But what started as a vision became reality. And that’s not a magic trick.

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