Yeah, he did it: this afternoon at a press conference, Governor David Ige announced that he would sign House Bill 2501 “with reservations,” which means Alexander & Baldwin (A&B) can continue its century-old practice of diverting East Maui water (the governor’s live stream of the press conference was a failure, but Honolulu Civil Beat reporter Nathan Eagle tweeted Ige’s decision at 2:20pm or so). This is despite A&B’s announcement earlier this year that they would close the Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar plantation on Maui.
Reaction to the announcement from environmentalists was swift and brutal. “Governor Ige failed to achieve the right balance in this situation,” said Marti Townsend, Director for the Sierra of Hawai‘i, in a June 27 news release. “His decision unnecessarily favors profit-driven water diversions above the best interests of the public. Our laws are written to ensure that our water is held in trust for everyone’s benefit. The Ige Administration should follow those laws, not change them to benefit those that divert public water for private gain, while harming the people and our environment.”
In her news release, Townsend also noted that a court ruled in January that the state Department of Land and Natural Resources “had improperly ‘held over’ A&B’s permits for nearly 3 decades in violation of state law.” This fact made Mahealani Wendt, a Wailuanui resident who has challenged A&B’s water diversions, profoundly disappointed.
“Today Governor Ige makes clear that he does not care about the people of East Maui,” she said in the Sierra Club Hawaii press release. “The court agreed that A&B has been improperly diverting the public’s water, but instead of following the law the politicians are siding with the corporation that has been harming us for so long.”
A couple hours after his press conference, Ige issued a statement on why he signed HB 2501. He starts by mentioning that he signed the bill despite having “major reservations” and insists that “water diversions will not continue as they have in the past.” But he also uses the phrase “I expect A&B…” twice, which doesn’t exactly sound like a guarantee (during the 2014 election, Ige’s campaign took more than $2,700 from the A&B HI Political Action Committee, and another $4,000 from A&B CEO Stanley Kuriyama, according to the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission).
Anyway, here’s Ige’s statement, in full:
We have a water permit process that has not been working. While I have major reservations about HB2501, it does provide time to transition to a process that ensures water is distributed fairly in accordance with the public trust doctrine and that decisions are made in a timely manner. The issues this bill addresses affect A&B and others such as KIUC and HECO and smaller farmers who have revocable water permits and are not able to convert them to leases in the time allowed under statute.
I understand why taro farmers on Maui would want this bill vetoed, and to them I say that water diversions will not continue as they have in the past. The State Water Code explicitly prohibits wasting water, and I expect A&B to stop diverting any water it is not actively using. I also expect A&B to make its plans to support sustainable, diversified agriculture available to the public as quickly as possible and to act in good faith, so we can all pitch in on shaping Maui’s future.
My expectation is that the Board of Land and Natural Resources and the Commission on Water Resource Management will act quickly, especially in setting instream flow standards so we all have the same facts. As the Board and Commission consider any application for long-term leases, I also expect them to factor in expected climate change impacts to rainfall, in-stream protection, and forest protection.
My administration is committed to helping the parties involved in East Maui to mediate their differences to avoid costly delays for everyone. Let us move forward together.
Photo of Honomanu Bay: Chris Archer