Sunday…trees cut in Kaaawa park, ag bill controversy continues

Trees cutWe got down to the beach one morning earlier this week and discovered that city crews had cut down several of the trees at Kalaeoio Beach Park just as you enter Kaaawa from Kualoa. Perhaps they were dangerous, although this tree has survived for years with its roots partially exposed by the seasonal erosion of the sand. But it’s the second wave of trees lost just since about 2000, and their absence was obvious. Just click on the photo for a better look.

Debate continues over the important agricultural lands bill passed by the legislature this year and now on Gov. Lingle’s desk awaiting action. Environmental groups and some small farmers, led by the Sierra Club and others, view the bill as a give-away to large landowners and have called on Lingle to veto it.

Several legislators who backed the bill wrote an op-ed in this morning’s Star-Bulletin defending the bill.

I’m disappointed that environmentalists cannot see the importance of this bill for the viability of agriculture in Hawaii. The IAL bill has the support of the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation, the Hawaii Cattlemen’s Council, the dean of the University of Hawaii-Manoa College of Tropical Agriculture, the Maui County Farm Bureau and the state Department of Agriculture. This bill implements a 30-year-old constitutional mandate that protects our prime agricultural lands from further erosion. The future of farming and the ability of Hawaii to grow food locally are at stake.

On the other side, several letters addressed to Gov. Lingle have been circulating on the web. Glenn Teves, who farms at Hoolehua Homestead on Molokai, wrote:

This bill will accelerate the movement of land out of agriculture like no other law since the legislature approved golf courses on agricultural land. The protection of agriculture cannot involve giving away the farm. This bill will give landowners the permits to develop almost anywhere without checks and balances, and is spot zoning is its most blatant form.

Jack Kelly, who describes himself as “a farmer representative and Vice Chairman of the Hawaii Rural Development Council”, wrote:

As bad as we need an incentive package to implement the provisions of the Important Agricultural Lands legislation, SB 2646 is not the Bill. I find it disheartening to tell you the truth. The original language in SB 2646 was balanced and productive and I thought at long last we had a bill we small farmers could run with but the political maneuvering by House conferees dashed that hope and we ended up with a really bad bill that gives away the farm to a powerful few really large landowners at the expense of any hope of integrated land use planning in the future, at the expense of public process and at the expense of a viable sustainable future for Hawaii’s children.

The Legislature, true to its penchant for the ironic, held a super positive Solar Roofs bill hostage to garner the 85/15 provision in SB 2646 that could open up thousands of acres of former AG lands to urbanization.

But the Maui County Farm Bureau has been urging its members to support the bill. A background memo by Warren Watanabe, MCFB executive director, has a very different take on the bill’s most controversial land provision.

The most controversy surrounds the 85/15 provision. First, look at the lands that have been developed across the State. Why have agricultural lands gone vacant? As mentioned in the prior paragraph, it s because of viability. I strongly believe that if farms and ranches are viable, they will not close their doors. The large landowners that are developing their lands tend to do so because that is the only way they can have income. They have a responsibility to their shareholders and vacant land does not bring in income. Unlike the days of sugarcane and pineapple, they do not have lands in active agriculture. While the 85/15 provision was not in the original Bill, we feel that it is just one of the incentives. Unlike what our opponents imply or state, there are protective measures. All reclassifications must be part of EXISTING GENERAL AND COMMUNITY PLANS. Additionally lands that are identified as IAL must be certified by the Department of Agriculture as worthy of designation. And finally, lands designated under this provision must undergo legislative approval for removal from IAL. We are also very cognizant of the fact that not all agricultural lands in the State are appropriate for real agriculture. Current agricultural classification is by default, meaning some of the lands should be reclassified whether it be to urban, rural or conservation.

An email transmitting this background memo and several suggested templates for letters supporting the bill has an important clue to the problem:

The Important Agricultural Lands Incentive Bill passed by the Legislature currently sits on the Governor’s desk. We understand it’s position is 50/50 whether or not she will veto the measure. The passage of this measure is extremely important as we feel if it is not completed this year, it will not move next year. I think you know how everyone is struggling on Maui…we cannot have any more Ward Murashiges ……….I am attaching some template letters as well as MCFB’s response letter to the Governor’s Policy Group upon a request for comment as well as an info sheet. There is a last minute provision that was added to the Bill by some landowners……Unfortunately, it has become the focus of the Bill. It really does have controls in place and redesignation will not be so easy. Sierra Club has decided to pick a fight with us so this is why the Bill is in trouble. [emphasis added]

With a near consensus on other provisions of the bill, it’s clear that “some landowners” tacked on a provision that they knew was objectionable and counted on the popularity of the rest of the measure to carry it through.

It puts Gov. Lingle in a tough spot, where she will get a lot of criticism no matter what she does.

She could take no action and let it pass into law without her signature. We’ll see soon enough.

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