Big Island Activist, Wife Killed

March 4th, 2005 - by admin

Kevin Dayton / Honolulu Advertiser – 2005-03-04 22:21:11

HILO, Hawai’i (January 25, 2005) — Tireless Kona environmentalist Jerry Rothstein and his wife, Judith, were among four people killed in a head-on crash Sunday evening on Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway.

Jerry Rothstein, right, a longtime Big Island activist, was killed Sunday with his wife in a car crash. In 2003, he briefed fellow activists before the start of a demonstration at the Hilton Waikoloa Resort.

Jerry Rothstein, 68, was founder and president of Public Access Shoreline Hawai’i (PASH), whose lawsuit over a coastal development in Kohanaiki resulted in a 1995 landmark Hawai’i Supreme Court decision affirming Native Hawaiian gathering and cultural rights on private property.

Hawai’i County Councilman Angel Pilago, a plaintiff in the Kohanaiki case, said Rothstein pioneered an alliance between Kona environmentalists and Native Hawaiian practitioners. It was a partnership that proved extremely effective in both the courtroom and the political arena in forcing developments to recognize shoreline access rights and other issues that benefit the public, he said.

According to police, Judith Rothstein, 67, was driving a 1990 Toyota four-door station wagon south on the highway shortly before 6:30 p.m. Sunday when it crossed the centerline and collided with a 2004 Saturn four-door sedan about 5.5 miles south of the Waikoloa Beach Resort.

Jerry Rothstein was pronounced dead at 7:30 p.m. at North Hawai’i Community Hospital. The other victims were taken to the Kona Community Hospital, where they were pronounced dead at 11:50 p.m.

Police identified the couple in the Saturn as Ernest Wefelmeyer, 76, and his wife, Gearetta Wefelmeyer, 70, of Minneapolis.

The crash is being investigated.

The Rothsteins lived in Kailua and had two grown children, a daughter in Kona and a son who lives in Israel, friends said.

Judith Rothstein worked at the Kealakekua Public Library and later at the Kailua Public Library, friends said. Jerry Rothstein formerly owned a restaurant in Hilo and also was involved in computer-related businesses in the Kona area, they said.

Jerry Rothstein moved from New York to Hawai’i in 1970. He was a charter member of the Big Island Sierra Club Group and started the “Save Hapuna” initiative, according to the Sierra Club. He was a familiar presence at state and county public hearings, bluntly criticizing decisions he felt were not in the public interest.

Councilwoman Virginia Isbell said she dubbed Rothstein “Mr. Community” because of his activism. He could accurately quote rules, law and court cases to bolster his arguments, and took an interest in an array of causes.

“Jerry was a tireless defender of Hawai’i’s shorelines,” said Jeff Mikulina, director of the Sierra Club’s Hawai’i chapter.

The PASH lawsuit challenging the $350 million Nansay development at Kohanaiki in North Kona was not his only important legal victory. Rothstein joined in a successful lawsuit to challenge the county zoning code because he believed county officials violated the state Sunshine Law in passing it.

Over the past year he organized protests to pressure the state into demanding back lease rent from the owners of the land under the Hilton Waikoloa Resort because a portion of the resort was built on public property. He also lobbied successfully to block a massive new development at O’oma in Kona.

Just days before his death, Rothstein was pressing state lawmakers to reform the process used to certify where the line is drawn between privately owned land and publicly owned shoreline, and he was planning a strategy to restore an old Hawaiian trail along the Kailua coastline.

“He stood up for principle over monetary considerations,” said Douglas Blake, a longtime friend of the Rothsteins. “It’s a great loss to our community.”

Alliances between Native Hawaiian groups and environmentalists are almost taken for granted on the Big Island today, with both interests routinely collaborating on issues such as astronomy development on Mauna Kea, resort development in coastal areas and military projects such as the construction of new training grounds for the US Army’s armored Stryker combat vehicle.

Much of that cooperation has its roots in the partnership formed in the PASH case, Pilago said.

By bringing this together, that moved Hawai’i Island to the forefront of environmental protection and the perpetuation of cultural practices,” Pilago said. “That was a revolutionary step in litigation for resource management in Hawai’i.

Rothstein didn’t know when to quit, friends said. Fellow environmental activist Janice Palma-Glennie was in tears after hearing of his death, and said after the initial shock “what I really felt was tired.”

“I just realized how exhausted it made me feel to think that Jerry wasn’t going to be here, because he did all the work that nobody else wanted to do, and he was so relentless,” she said.

Pilago said, “Sometimes I would be embarrassed because he was so aggressive, but that was part of his make-up and nature in that he would not take ‘no’ in respect to protecting the environment. He would not take ‘no,’ and he would not bend.”

Reach Kevin Dayton at or (808) 935-3916.

Group Outlines Stryker Concerns
Karen Blakeman / Honolulu Advertiser

(January 4, 2004 ) — The Army is speeding ahead with its plans to install a Stryker Brigade in Hawai’i, giving only lip service to the impact that the vehicles and required training scenarios are likely to have on the state’s environment, the Sierra Club charged yesterday in a 32-page letter.

“We are concerned that the Army, the Pentagon and our elected leaders are viewing the environmental review process for this project as a mere formality instead of using it as the decision-making tool it is meant to be,” said Jeff Mikulina, director of the club’s Hawai’i chapter.

The Sierra Club also accused the Army of expanding its plans for the Stryker Brigade without properly studying the effect those changes were likely to have on the environment. It contends that although the Army has made progress in its stewardship of land it uses in the state, problems with inadequate cleanup at old sites and issues such as the recent fire in Makua Valley do not bode well for the impact of the new Stryker Brigade.

The Army said it would carefully review the Sierra Club’s comments.

The Sierra Club letter was submitted to the Army as a response to the government’s three-volume, 1,500-page draft environmental impact statement, which was released Sept. 30. Yesterday was the last day for the public to submit responses.

“The Army is pleased the Sierra Club provided comments on the draft environmental impact statement,” said Troy Griffin, spokesman for the 25th Infantry Division (Light). “These comments will be reviewed, considered and addressed with the same deliberate process as the other comments on the document received during the public comment period.”

Griffin would not comment on the specific allegations by the Sierra Club, saying the issues were better addressed through the environmental impact review process.

The Stryker is a 19-ton armored vehicle that is light enough to airlift, has eight wheels instead of treads and is said to be extremely maneuverable. Stryker Brigade combat teams include 3,600 soldiers designed to be deployed anywhere in the world within 96 hours.

Stryker Brigades are the Army’s answer to critics who, at the end of the 20th century, contended the service was incapable of deploying fighting units quickly enough to respond to scenarios likely to arise in the 21st century. The first Stryker brigade, out of Fort Lewis, Wash., is being tested in Iraq.

It was reported last month that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has approved a Stryker Brigade for Hawai’i.

The Stryker Brigade is expected to be operational in 2007, equipped with new lightweight 155 mm howitzers and new Comanche helicopters scheduled to be in service in 2009. The Stryker would be the 2nd Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division (Light) and be based at Schofield Barracks.

State elected officials, including Sen. Dan Inouye and Rep. Neil Abercrombie, have lauded the Stryker Brigade as a means of ensuring a continued military presence in Hawai’i and an economic impetus for the state. The Sierra letter also points out that government money has been set aside for the improvements that would support the Stryker, including upgrades to Hickam Air Force Base, which would transport deployed vehicles by C-17 aircraft.

These statements and actions seem to indicate that the military plans to go forward with the Stryker Brigade, regardless of the findings in the environmental studies, Mikulina said.

The Sierra Club also said that training with Comanche helicopters and 155 mm howitzers was not considered in studies leading to the military’s original environmental impact statement and should have been. A new or amended draft environmental impact statement should be prepared and submitted for public comment, the letter said.

The Army will review the public comments it has received before deciding whether to issue a final environmental impact statement.

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