Oral Arguments Set on 1993 Water Use Permit for Moloka‘i Ranch Subsidiary

April 11, 2018, 5:02 PM HST · Updated April 13, 9:14 AM
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Maui Now graphic. Background photo: Molokaʻi aerial, file image courtesy Maui Electric.

The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs are looking forward to taking the next steps in protecting Hawaiian water rights on Molokaʻi from proposed resort uses by Molokaʻi Ranch.

The Hawaiʻi Supreme Court recently scheduled oral arguments on the most recent dispute regarding a 1993 Water Use Permit granted to Molokaʻi Public Utilities, a subsidiary of the Molokaʻi Ranch, by the Commission on Water Resource Management.

In 2007, the Court overruled the CWRM decision finding that they did not adequately consider the impact of the Ranch’s proposed use on the DHHL or on groundwater flow to the coast that supports traditional and customary practices of Hawaiians.

At issue in this case is a more recent 2017 dismissal by the CWRM of the remanded application by the Ranch to use water from Well 17 to redevelop an abandoned golf course and resort on the extremely dry west end of Molokaʻi.

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According to information provided by DHHL, “CWRM, OHA, and DHHL took Molokaʻi Ranch at their word when in 2008, the Ranch sent a letter to CWRM stating in part: ‘This letter is to inform you that Molokaʻi Public Utilities does not intend to continue this case on remand.’ Now the Ranch is arguing that that letter was ‘equivocal’ and thus did not count as an abandonment of their appeal.”

OHA and the DHHL have been parties to this litigation, along with individual petitioners Judy Caparida and Georgina Kuahuia, for over 25 years. According to DHHL, both organizations remain committed to protecting Hawaiian water rights on the island of Molokaʻi.

Water rights advocacy and training has been identified as one of the priority goals of the Hawaiian Homes Commission’s Water Policy Plan, which will be a core discussion topic at the next monthly meeting of the Hawaiian Homes Commission on Molokaʻi on April 16 and 17, 2018.

“We appreciate that the Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments” said Jobie Masagatani, Chair of the Hawaiian Homes Commission that oversees DHHL. “If we are to return more native Hawaiians to the land, water is necessary.”

Colette Machado, Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of OHA, is from Molokaʻi. “We continue to stand with the Hawaiian people of this island to make sure that any development of water is only done after the needs of our people are first considered, as the law requires” she said. “We are glad for the chance to again make sure that the state protects Public Trust uses of water, which includes Hawaiian gathering rights and the needs of Hawaiian Home Lands.”

Oral arguments in the case are scheduled for May 31, 2018 at 10 a.m. at the Supreme Court Courtroom in Honolulu.

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