Public outrage against the newly formed Public Land Development Corporation migrated from the Big Island last week to Molokai last night.
The names and faces may have changed but the sentiment from the two islands remains the same: the PLDC is a breach of public trust and the law must be repealed.
One speaker after another at the Mitchell Pau’ole Center rejected this newly formed branch of the Department of Land and Natural Resources. The public hearing, the fourth of six being held statewide, offered an opportunity for the public to comment on the proposed administrative rules governing the PLDC before they are adopted.
The purpose of the PLDC — created by the state legislature in 2011 as SB 1555 and enacted as Act 55 — is to “… enter into cooperative agreements with qualified persons for the development or financing of projects that make optimal use of public land for the economic, environmental, and social benefit of the people of Hawaii,” according to a statement from Gov. Neil Abercrombie.
The final testimony of the evening came from Kanoho Helm, recent candidate for the State Senate 7th District. “Raise your hand if you support this (PLDC),” asked Helm. Looking around the packed conference room, not a single hand went up. “If you impose this on the people it will be considered rape. Repeal this law!” Helm concluded.
Two central criticisms of the PLDC arose at the public hearing: 1) The proposed rules exempt the PLDC from land use and zoning laws and bypass the typical public reviews for a development project; and, 2) Because many of the public lands in question represent ceded lands owned by the Hawaiian people and held in trust by the state government, the state does not have the right to partner with private companies to develop these lands.
Former Campbell Estate land manager Lloyd Haraguchi, executive director of the PLDC, opened the meeting by explaining the scope and purpose of the PLDC. “We are seeking revenue from underused public lands,” he said. An abandoned school building, for example, could be developed and the revenue could, in part, benefit the Department of Education. He added that the PLDC will not be exempt from environmental laws and assessments. He also added that the Office of Hawaiian Affairs will continue to receive the same rent money it always has for the state’s use of ceded lands.
But, in fact, it was former OHA Trustee Moani Keala Akaka who first raised questions about the PLDC after it sailed through the legislature with little public scrutiny. As the fine print within the administrative rules received review, the public outcry against the PLDC grew louder.
Glenn Teves, from the University of Hawaii Extension Office on Molokai, asked why the PLDC is exempted from certain rules. “Why have rules if you can waive your own rules?” asked Teves. He also wanted to know what projects the state had in mind, what is the definition of the “highest and best use of land,” the transparency of this process and how many people will be on the PLDC board.
In response to the question about waiving its own rules — an issue raised at the public hearings already held in Kona and Kahului — the PLDC released this written statement: “One of the public concerns that has been raised was that the PLDC may waive its rules. However he said this provision ONLY applies to Chapter 301, Rules of Practice and Procedure, and is in place to enable the PLDC Board to have greater flexibility in accepting testimony from the public. It does not apply to Chapter 302, Public Land Development Program, nor Chapter 303, Project Facility Program.”
Scott Ka’uhane Adams, like many of the testifiers, expressed concern over the lack of public input received in passing this law and the lack of public input needed to create a development project. “It is dangerous to put public lands in private hands,” he said, perhaps unknowingly composing the first anti-PLDC sign-waving slogan.
One of the strongest testimonies came from Molokai homesteader and resident Adolph Helm. “I am disappointed as well as appalled that our legislators and the government of Hawaii passed legislation that gives the DLNR and the PLDC the authority and power to supersede county zoning and existing state land use laws that were intentionally designed and created to protect our public trust resources and ceded lands,” said Helm, in reading his written testimony.
Helm continued: “Our state government is poised to run amuck with fast track boondoggle projects that benefit the private developer and the pockets of the well connected. Special interest and government are driving a reckless-at-all-cost agenda that will forever alter the political and environmental landscape of Hawaii.”
Helm went on to say that he believes there are ways to streamline the permitting process to make development “more efficient and cost effective.” But bypassing public input and environmental oversight is not acceptable, he said.
Helm concluded by asking the DLNR, “to support the wishes of the people and recommend you repeal the PLDC from moving forward and that you get back to your department’s mission and kuleana in protecting Hawaii’s precious resources.”
The public hearings about the PLDC continue tomorrow on Oahu at the DLNR Kalanimoku Building, Land Board Conference Room 132, 1151 Punchbowl St., Honolulu, HI 96813. On Friday, the final meeting will be held on Kauai at Elsie H. Wilcox Elementary School, 4319 Hardy St., Lihu‘e.
Comments on the PLDC will be accepted until Sept. 14 by email to: to firstname.lastname@example.org or by regular mail to: PLDC, PO Box 2359, Honolulu, HI 96804.
More information on the PLDC is available at www.hawaii.gov/dlnr/pldc. Copies of the proposed rules change are available on-line at http://hawaii.gov/dlnr/pldc/rules.