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Ms. GABBARD. Mr. Chairman, I rise in strong support of the Young amendment. This amendment will continue the administration of the Essential Air Service program, recognizing the unique characteristics of both Hawaii and Alaska.
The Essential Air Service program was put into place to guarantee that small communities, like the communities in our States, will continue to maintain a minimal level of scheduled air service with access to the national air transportation system. Especially in times of medical emergencies or natural disasters, this literally is the difference between life and death for the people in our communities.
In a State like Hawaii, where I'm from, where island communities are separated by the Pacific Ocean, access to air service is oftentimes the only transportation option available if service needs to be provided with any regularity or within specific time constraints.
One example is Kalaupapa, a community on an isolated peninsula on the north shore of Molokai. When Hansen's disease was first introduced to the Hawaiian Islands, all people afflicted with this disease were sent to this rural community, Kalaupapa. Today, it is a refuge for the remaining residents and patients who, now cured, would still like to live there. If not for the assistance of the Essential Air Service program, the only way to get in and out of that community is a 3.5 mile trail down a 1,700-foot sea cliff used by mule riders and hikers. This trail is extremely steep and challenging and has been made impassable in the past because of heavy rains. This is just one example of why this continued air service is critical to the people who continue to live in this community.
Hawaii and Alaska, as illustrated, have unique geographical limitations and challenges. Whereas other communities are generally accessible by vehicle, that's not always the case in the noncontiguous States; 3 1/2 miles doesn't sound very far until you're looking up the side of a steep cliff from the back of a mule.
The amendment being offered by Representative Young would continue this program's recognition of our exceptional geographic challenges. This amendment maintains the current practice of Alaska and Hawaii being exempt from restrictions on what communities are eligible for the Essential Air Service program.
Currently, only two communities in Hawaii qualify--Kalaupapa and Kamuela--but maintaining this air service is critically important for all people who live in these areas.
I would also just like to take a moment to recognize my colleague from Hawaii, Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa. She has worked very closely with Congressman Young on this amendment and would have liked to have been here to speak in strong support of it today were it not for Tropical Storm Flossie, where she is stuck in Hawaii, across the Pacific Ocean away.
I would like to thank Representative Young for offering this amendment and for his leadership, and strongly urge my colleagues to support the Young amendment.
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