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Senators Postpone Decision on Bill Relating to Water Rights

April 3, 2019, 5:27 PM HST
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A joint Senate Committee postponed decision making on Tuesday, April 2, 2019, on the controversial bill relating to water rights—HB 1326—after more than six hours of testimony in opposition to the measure.

The Sierra Club of Hawai‘i released the following press release:

Heated questioning by the senators revealed that Maui County upcountry residents will not be affected, and Kaʻu ranchers and other small farmers will continue to have water, if HB 1326 is not passed. It also revealed that senators are extremely disappointed in the Ige Administration’s handling of water permits since 2016.

Senators started the hearing with heated questions posed to Ige Administration officials, including the Attorney General Clare Connors.

The hearing was clouded by perceived backroom maneuvering that included a bill being gutted and replaced with a longer extension, scheduled for hearing at the same time as HB1326, and then deleted from the agenda the night before. As well as a re-referral removing the Ways and Means Committee from the hearing on HB 1326, a move that was later rescinded.

After more than six hours of testimony and over 600 written testimony submissions in opposition, HB 1326 was scheduled for a decision-making hearing on Thursday afternoon.

“I think the heart-felt testimony in overwhelming opposition had a real effect on the senators’ opinion of this bill,” said Marti Townsend of the Sierra Club. “All of the committee members were there at the close of testimony, but they postponed decision making to another day. Why? Maybe there are not enough votes to give A&B another extension given all of the harm their diversions have caused.”

If HB 1326 passes, then Alexander and Baldwin will retain $62 million they collected from the buyer of their old sugar plantation in Central Maui. The land sale agreement stipulates that the new buyer will receive 30 million gallons of water a day from East Maui for eight years or A&B will refund the new $62 million.

“That is a lot of money,” Townsend said. “Especially compared to the $150,000 DLNR has been collecting each year from A&B for the last 15 years for the diversion of 160 million gallons of water a day. “This is part of the reason that DLNR is underfunded, because we are giving away our public trust resources to corporations for little to nothing.”

People flew in from all of the neighbor islands to testify against HB 1326 because their lives are directly impacted by the diversion of streams. People who farm wetland taro, catch fish in nearshore waters, harvest limu, and perpetuate traditional rural Hawaiian lifestyles were unified in their opposition to A&B’s profits from Hawaiʻi’s otherwise unsellable, public trust resources. Their concerns were shared and amplified by lawyers, scientists, and good government advocates who see the favoritism towards this one company undermining the veracity of our laws, our ecosystem, and our democracy.

Decision making will be held on Thursday, April 4, at 4 p.m. in capitol room 211.

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