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Sierra Club Targets Legislators on PLDC Repeal

October 31, 2012, 1:31 PM HST (Updated November 1, 2012, 8:38 AM)
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The Hawaii Chapter of the Sierra Club today announced a campaign to muster support to abolish the Public Land Development Corp., the semi-autonomous new state agency that has sparked protests across the state.

The club said based on concerns raised by “thousands of worried residents,” it is encouraging legislators to publicly commit to repealing the PLDC.

The Sierra Club and others have launched a website, http://www.grandtheftaina.com/, that lists the candidates for the state Legislature and states their position – if they have taken one — on whether they support repealing Act 55, the state law passed in 2011 creating the PLDC.

On the Big Island, state Sen. Malama Solomon, a candidate in Senate District 4, has been a strong supporter of the PLDC. Sen. Gil Kahele, who is running in Senate District 1, is reportedly in favor of the agency but did not respond to the club’s inquiries about his position, the website said.

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Other candidates for Big Island Senate seats are listed as in support of repealing the PLDC.

On the state House side, Rep. Mark Nakashima, Rep. Clift Tsuji, and Rep. Cindy Evans, all of whom have already won re-election, have been given question marks because they haven’t responded to requests for their positions. The Sierra Club said that is also the case with Richard Onishi, a candidate in House District 3, and Republican District 6 candidate Roy Ebert.

All the other state House candidates from Hawaii County have indicated their support for a repeal, the club said.

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Those who favor repealing the law include Senate President Shan Tsutsui of Maui, but opponents of the PLDC still have considerable opposition.

The main backer of the new agency, Gov. Neil Abercrombie, has said he would veto any bill repealing Act 55. Abercrombie recently appointed William Kaneko, his former campaign manager, to lead a working group helping PLDC supporters counteract public opposition to the agency.

The Sierra Club said it has begun issuing mailers in an attempt to educate voters on the issue. The districts targeted include House District 20, which is represented by Speaker Calvin Say, who has said it is premature to change the PLDC.

Others the club is targeting include Senate District 25, even though both candidates, Republican Fred Hemmings and Democrat Laura Thielen, apparently support a repeal; and House District 6 in Kona, where Ebert is taking on Democratic candidate Nicole Lowen, a member of the Sierra Club’s Executive Committee.

The agency was formed to find private companies to develop state lands to generate additional revenues for agencies such as the Department of Land and Natural Resources, which controls most of the state’s property.

However, the law creating the agency made it exempt from some state land-use laws and also county zoning and subdivision requirements. That has made it the target of environmentalists, native Hawaiian groups and others who say the agency should not have such unfettered authority.

County Councils on the Big Island and Kauai have unanimously approved resolutions seeking the dissolution of the PLDC, and similar legislation is under consideration on Maui and Oahu.

The PLDC also raised ire with its announcement recently that after holding hearings statewide on its first draft of the administrative rules, it would hold only a single meeting, on Oahu, on its latest draft.

“We’re encouraging our members and supporters to reach out to candidates to express their concern about the PLDC,” Robert D. Harris, director of the club’s Hawaii Chapter, said in a statement issued today.

“We believe our legislators listen to the public. A large number of candidates are already publicly supporting a repeal of the PLDC,” Harris said. “This isn’t suprising. What is surprising is how few candidates are willing to publicly support the PLDC. Candidates are starting to see the beleaguered PLDC as a sinking ship.”

Suggestions to amend the PLDC’s draft administrative rules have been “largely ignored,” Harris said, adding that it appears the “only alternative is to push for a repeal of the PLDC.”

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