Maui County Council voted unanimously yesterday to present the Molokai veterans with an offer to settle the dispute over the Molokai Veterans Center.
When the veterans looked at the offer put together by the Maui County Policy Committee, they were “insulted,” said Larry Helm, commander for Molokai Veterans Caring for Veterans.
Details of offers proposed by either side are confidential and not available. However, Helm said the two sides are not even close at this time.
“They are playing games,” said Helm. “[This offer] shows the continuous disrespect for the veterans, what we represent and what the center represents.”
With this current impasse, the case will be going before federal Magistrate Judge Richard Puglisi on Monday, who replaces Judge Leslie Kobayashi. After hearing arguments from both sides on the nine separate claims made by the veterans, Puglisi, a veteran himself, will either compel the two sides to reach a reasonable settlement, bind the case over for trial or grant Maui County’s motion for a dismissal. If dismissed, Helm said the veterans will file an appeal.
If a trial date is set, Helm believes the county will be more open to settling once revealing depositions are taken and made public. However, the process of offers and counter offers will officially be over after Monday.
“Once they see the facts, any reasonable person would be appalled that any government would allow that to happen.” Said Helm.
The problems for the veterans center project began shortly after it started four years ago. A series of miscommunications, delays and misinformation led the veterans to file a lawsuit in federal court in September of 2010.
At first, zoning issues prevented the veterans from receiving a building permit to begin construction of a 3,000 square-foot building and lanai on a plot of land on Wharf Road in Kaunakakai donated to them by Molokai Ranch.
Then the issue became the water line. Although the current four-inch water main received approval from the Maui County Fire Department, the Department of Water Supply concluded it was not adequate for fire suppression.
While other businesses and homes on the same water line, or smaller water lines, have received permits, the veterans still remain out in the cold. This perceived unequal treatment is a large part of the veterans’ complaint.
When Alan Arakawa ousted Charmaine Tavares as Maui County mayor in November, he said this case is a “no-brainer,” said Helm, and that the building permit would take two weeks. According to Helm, the offer put forward by the Arakawa administration is no better. Arakawa said it is now out of his hands and must be handled by lawyers, said Helm.
But even if a settlement is reached, Helm said the $250,000 grant from the state legislature will not be enough to cover all the costs associated with constructing the center. The general contractor who had agreed to do the project at a discount is no longer available.
All that Helm and the veterans want now is a reasonable offer that will cover the costs of delays, legal expenses and include an apology for how this was handled.
“An honest offer includes an apology and compensation for the delays and wrongdoing,” said Helm. Even if other veterans feel this is not fair compensation, Helm said he would override them in an effort to get this project off the ground before any more veterans die.
Helm says that the money Maui County has already spent on the numerous hearings, legal costs and travel expenses is well over $300,000. “These expenses can be easily identified,” said Helm. “All for a $112,000 building.”