The increasingly unpopular HB1326 – the so-called “Corporate Water Theft” bill, currently languishing in the Senate – took another hit over the weekend. In a letter to legislators, the Democratic Party of Hawai‘i has officially declared its opposition to the proposed bill, which would allow companies such as Mahi Pono seven more years of revocable “holdover” permits with which to divert water from East Maui watershed and other streams around the state. The action puts state senators in the awkward position of voting against their own party if they decide to support the bill.
“The Party believes the Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) and entities, such as Alexander and Baldwin (A&B) should no longer be allowed to rely on one-year holdover permits to steal public water resources for their own purposes,” the letter states. “Prior to the passage of Act 126 [in 2016], BLNR and holders of the holdover permits had decades to comply with the law and failed to do so. Following the passage of Act 126, those same entities have had three years to convert those permits and have again failed to do so.”
The letter, which was drafted after a meeting of the State Central Committee on Saturday and signed by Chairman Keali’i Lopez and Legislation Committee Co-chairs Josh Frost and Zahava Zaidoff, urges legislators to “respect the ruling of the State Supreme Court regarding A&B’s illegal taking of water from public streams and halt this bill immediately.”
South Maui Representative Tina Wildberger, who voted against HB1326 in several committees and in floor votes, praised the party’s decision. “I am thrilled to see the Democratic Party under Chair Lopez’s leadership make a strong statement that business as usual needs to sunset in the Aloha State,” she told MauiTime Monday. “It’s time to follow the law of Act 126.”
Despite hours of testimony and hundreds of pages filed in opposition from a wide array of state organizations, HB1326 pretty much sailed through the House in the first weeks of the current legislative session. Mahi Pono senior vice president of operations Shan Tsutsui – a registered Mahi Pono lobbyist and strong HB1326 supporter – was a constant presence at the Legislature. After it crossed over to the Senate, the bill’s next stop was the five-member Water and Land committee.
During a Maui visit in late February by four members of that committee to tour the East Maui watershed and visit with Mahi Pono officials, Tsutsui gave them a “Farm Narrative” that suggested dire consequences for croplands if the water bill didn’t pass, a move that seemed to hurt Mahi Pono’s efforts rather than help. In the face of growing and extremely vocal opposition, the Water and Land committee hearing was never scheduled. Instead, senate leadership announced that the bill would be heard at a joint meeting of the Water and Land committee and the Ways and Means committee, although that meeting has not yet been scheduled.
Mahi Pono was contacted for comment, but has steadfastly refused to respond to emails from MauiTime.