State briefs: Senate committee passes bill to assist home buyers

HONOLULU — A Hawaii state Senate committee has approved a bill that would provide up to $50,000 for down payments for first-time home buyers.

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Wednesday that the bill passed by the Senate Committee on Housing Tuesday is aimed at assisting Hawaii residents and enticing expatriates back to the islands.

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The bill addresses the departure of 13,537 people who left Hawaii between 2016 and 2017 and cites the high cost of living in the islands.

The $50,000 would be provided by the state as a dollar-for-dollar match with home buyers.

The bill originally was written to apply to anyone who graduated from a Hawaii high school, left the state to pursue a four-year undergraduate degree and now plans to live in a first home in Hawaii for a minimum of two years.

Those selling the homes before two years would be required to repay the state’s down payment at an annual 8% interest rate.

The bill was amended Tuesday to include Hawaii residents who do not own property and want to buy their first homes.

The state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism informed the housing committee that basing a government grant program on residency may be discriminatory.

The state funding for the down payments would rely on taxes on real estate investment trusts. But that option fell into doubt Tuesday after Democratic state Sen. Stanley Chang, chairman of the housing committee, amended the bill to remove references to the trusts.

Maui Telescope reveals details of sun’s turbulent surface

A telescope on Maui has produced its first images of the sun, revealing its turbulent gas surface in what scientists called unprecedented detail.

They show the surface covered with bright cell-like areas, each about the size of Texas, that result from the transporting of heat from the sun’s interior. The telescope can reveal features as small as 18 miles (30 km) across, according to the National Science Foundation, which released the images Wednesday.

Further observations will help scientists understand and predict solar activity that can disrupt satellite communications and affect power grids, the foundation said.

Fewer turtles stranded on Maui in 2019 than previous year

WAILUKU, Hawaii — Fewer sea turtles were found stranded on Maui last year than in 2018, although officials say most cases continue to be caused by fishing gear, officials said.

There were 141 documented cases of green sea turtles stranded on Maui last year, down from 174 in 2018. Among the stranded turtles reported in 2019, 117 were located alive.

Fishing gear caused 102 strandings and 13 were stranded due to unknown causes. The remaining 26 were caused by boat strikes, buoyancy disorders, injured flippers, shark bites, diseases, or turtles becoming stuck in rocks or sand, officials said.

Endangered Maui birds to be moved in effort to save species

HONOLULU — Scientists will decide whether to establish a captive breeding program on the U.S. mainland in an attempt to prevent the extinction of a bird species only found on Maui, officials said.

A decision about the plan to save the endangered kiwikiu was expected at a meeting of project partners Thursday. A nonprofit bird facility on the mainland has expressed interest in a kiwikiu captive-breeding program, officials said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Serv­ice, one of the project partners, did not immediately respond to a request for information.

Also known as the Maui parrotbill, the population of yellow and olive-green forest birds has dwindled to fewer than 300.

The Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project halted a program to establish a population on the windward slopes of Maui’s Haleakala volcano after mosquito-borne avian malaria killed 10 of 13 birds set to be released in October, including one that died before it was set free. The final three are missing and presumed dead.

Recovery project officials hope the program on the mainland will buy time for the Maui parrotbill. Scientists said they need to find new ways to deal with the growing number of mosquitoes moving higher in forest elevation as Hawaii’s climate grows warmer.

“We have only a small window to do anything,” Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project Coordinator Hanna Mounce said.

The kiwikiu has suffered over the last century from habitat loss, invasive species, disease. and predators. Once found throughout low and highland forests of Maui and Molokai, the species has been relegated to the higher elevations of windward Haleakala, officials said.

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The bird’s range continues to shrink as climate change accelerates and mosquitoes carrying avian malaria move higher up the mountain, officials said.

Following the bird deaths last year, the project officials conducted a mosquito abundance survey of the release area and found a seven-fold increase since the previous survey.

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