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Heated PLDC Hearing Includes Maui Testimony

November 13, 2012, 4:40 PM HST · Updated November 14, 9:08 AM
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PLDC hearing on O’ahu. There was also an overflow area set up outside the room with a TV screen for those that were unable to fit in the public hearing room. Photo courtesy Mahina Martin.

By Wendy Osher

Nearly four hours of public testimony was received today at a statewide hearing on Oahu to discuss proposed administrative rules for the Public Land Development Corporation.

Opponents and supporters alike expressed heated sentiment over the establishment of the agency and its impact on the people of Hawai’i.

The meeting was to solicit comment on the proposed operating procedures of the PLDC and procedures for which it can enter into agreements for the development of public lands.

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The Public Land Development Corporation is a state entity that was created by the Legislature in 2011 to develop state lands through public-private partnerships, and generate revenues for the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

The corporation was formed after the Legislature passed Senate Bill 1555 which was signed into law as Act 55 by Governor Neil Abercrombie.

Maui opponent Mahina Martin flew to Honolulu to attend today’s meeting, criticizing the agency in part for holding a single state-wide followup hearing on O’ahu, which she said was difficult for neighbor islanders to attend.

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Martin said she was “frustrated at the shallow attempt to keep the public involved,” and disturbed by what she called an “obvious one-way process.”

“We were told that we would continue to be included and that our input was valuable, yet the next time we heard from the PLDC, was instead of returning as expected, the kuleana was on us to come to you if we wanted to participate,” said Martin in public testimony today.

Former senator and Kauai County Councilmember-elect Gary Hooser echoed a similar sentiment in his testimony saying that a single hearing on O’ahu “shuts out a third of the state.”

Martin expressed further frustration saying, “We are expected to trust a new agency that seems to be unable or unwilling to comprehend the level of value the public places on genuine, good-faith community engagement. We are expected to accept decisions that will impact our public lands for decades long past an administration, or two, or three.  We are expected to tolerate agreements and contracts made outside of competitive bidding that could affect any of Hawaii’s 67 state parks, 20 boat harbors, and approximately 600 miles of public access trails.”

Many of those who testified against the proposed rules requested a repeal of Act 55, the legislation that led to the creation of the Public Land Development Corporation, while others suggested amendments to proposed governing rules.

Jocelyn Doane who is a Senior Public Policy Advocate at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs participated with the intention of reiterating the agency’s suggested amendments to the PLDC’s proposed administrative rules and did not comment on or request a repeal.

After consulting attorneys versed in native Hawaiian and customary rights and submitting suggested amendments, Doane claims, “there has been little changes in the rules that would ensure transparency, due diligence and accountability in PLDC projects; (ensure) community input on proposals that are carried out by the PLDC; and provide minimum standard information that the public will have so that they can meaningfully participate.”

Doane continued saying the rules did not support, “equal and transparent planning for all projects and culturally sensitive development projects.”

Not all of those who attended were opposed to the PLDC amendments. Supporters included Sheldon Zane, president of Zane and Associates who expressed support for the PLDC and its mission. With 20 years of experience in public-private partnerships, Zane said he thinks, “we ought to proceed at full speed in adopting the administrative rules.”

“My interest is really in having PLDC succeed and provide to the state the requirements that are critically needed to support our aging infrastructure. If we don’t have methods of financing our public infrastructure and capital improvements, we’re going to be faced with a crumbling infrastructure,” said Zane.

Another supporter was Tish Uyehara, who formerly served as the director of the Office of Environmental Quality Control and deputy director for the Department of Agriculture.

Uyehara said that while she does not dispute that the expenditure of lands and funds must be strictly scrutinized but said, “but I also feet that in troubled economic times, we must find creative ways of meeting important state goals.”

While some testifiers saw public lands as those belonging to the state, others still view the ceded land as crown lands that should not be subject to state development.  Testifier Lancelot Haili Lincoln said, “the same thing is happening to my people that happened to our queen back in 1893, as we speak. Rich businessmen–Mr. Abercrombie and friends–they are stealing our land once again, and selling us out.”

One outburst came from a Hawai’i Island kupuna Fumi Bonk who sat quietly while her daughter, Keiko Bonk read testimony on her behalf. When the younger Bonk turned to ask her mother if there was anything else to be said, her mother spoke loudly from her wheelchair before the two PLDC board members in attendance and three staff members at the table and said, “God damn you.”

Among the testimony shared by Bonk was sentiment saying, “The creation of Act 55 was just encouraged by many developers who have other private interests in contributing large sums of money to our public officials to do special projects.”

Shannon Alivado who spoke on behalf of the General Contractors Association and in support of the PLDC claimed the rules, together with PLDC’s strategic plan, confirm compliance with state environmental protection and historic preservation, and ceded land requirements.

“With all due respect to the previous testifiers,” she said, “this in no way belittles what they have to say here today, but I think the important part of this that we all have to remember is a bigger picture of economic opportunity.”

“It disheartens me to see young people–high school students–here, saying that this is something that is going to be removing them from the process when this process right here is something that they are participating in and will be able to participate in the future on,” said Alivado.

Former chair of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, Laura Thielen testified against the PLDC amendments saying the biggest fears that people have is the exemptions extended to the PLDC from state local land use laws and zoning, under the proposed administrative rules.

“If all you want to do is the positive redevelopment that people have talked about today…all of that is allowed under the existing zoning,” said Thielen. She continued saying that the amendments make it worse.

“Your original draft rules did commit to following some of the local zoning laws and charter provisions relating to the county community and development plans; but in the amendments that are before you today, you took that language out–you struck the requirement to follow existing laws, charter provisions and rules–so you eliminated even a shadow of a commitment to follow some type of zoning,” said Thielen.

Alivado countered Thielen’s testimony saying, “Thielen spoke about projects that don’t need the exemptions and don’t require the PLDC in order to do them. But in reality there are projects that they’ve been looking at–biomedical facilities for invasive species–these projects have been discussed over and over for years.” Alivado said the projects may not come to fruition in the near future, “but they are possibilities, and I think that’s what the PLDC offers, especially in this economic times that we have today.”

The PLDC is governed by a five-member board of directors that includes: a representative each from three state agencies (Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism; the Department of Budget and Finance; and the Department of Land and Natural Resources); one member appointed by the speaker of the House; and one member appointed by the Senate president.

Lloyd Haraguchi, the PLDC’s executive director, closed the meeting explaining what would happen under various scenarios.

He said should the board decide to adopt the administrative rules, the rules would be sent to the attorney-general for legal review. If approved by the AG, the PLDC would then send the rules to the governor for final approval and signature, and then file certified copies with the office of the lieutenant-governor. Under this scenario,  the administrative rules would become effective 10 days after the filing, and have the force and effect of law.

A decision was not rendered during today’s meeting.

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