Waimea farmer alleges DHHL discrimination


More than a decade after severe flooding damaged Mineo Honda’s Waimea farm, and nearly eight years since he swapped that land for another piece, he may finally be able to farm his property.

“My farm lot was like a prison,” he said, describing how he felt waiting for help. “I couldn’t wait until I could get out every day.”

Honda claims he has been mistreated by the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands because he is Japanese, not Hawaiian. His wife, Nancy, is part Hawaiian and secured the DHHL leases the couple has held, including one in the Puukapu farm lots in 1978.

Drainage modifications made on land adjacent to his farm in 1985 to divert runoff caused him concerns from the beginning. Honda served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam and was a military engineer and he questioned the placement of the culverts. His worst fears were realized in 2002 and 2003, when heavy rains flooded his property.

By 2005, he had declared bankruptcy. He was able to, eventually, get some disaster relief from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, although he and his wife had to fight for that, too. At that point, Honda was feeling particularly frustrated with DHHL. Just as he began to make progress, including getting an agreement in 2006 to get a new piece of land in place of the one that kept flooding, he ran into new hurdles.

For one, the department changed leadership in 2010, when Gov. Neil Abercrombie took office. That meant all the people with whom Honda had been working were gone and new employees were in place, as well as new directives about who in the department could help, Honda said.

The Hondas didn’t hear anything for years. But in January, DHHL opened up the process to allow land subdivision requests again, and in May, the first application caught the public’s attention because of the prominence of the applicant, and allegations that she had been violating the department’s rules about how many structures could be on a homestead lot.

For his part, Honda has cleared his lot three times of kukiu grass and rocks in anticipation of getting the subdivision, road and ag water he needs to start farming again.

“(DHHL) gave Molokai farmers 80 acres, 100 acres,” he said. “Here I only had 15. I was very patient. I knew they had land available.”

He applied in 2012 for ag water access. It still hasn’t arrived, he said.

“As soon as they found out I’m not going to sue them, they became very, very tough,” he said, adding he believes some of the department’s actions could be classified as retaliation because he spoke out against them in 2005, in an article published in West Hawaii Today.

A department spokesman said the department wasn’t subdividing any land for years, until officials decided to reopen the process earlier this year.

“It’s a fairly new thing,” Puni Chee said.

The department has begun the process to provide agricultural and domestic water lines to the Hondas, Chee said earlier this month. The department is installing a hybrid water system in the Puukapa lots and is in the procurement process now. Chee said they’re hoping to issue a notice to proceed by the end of the summer.

Department employees have also picked up the subdivision request for the property. Part of the delay for the project, Chee said, was the county’s subdivision requirements, which include curbs and sidewalks for construction on subdivided property, even on ag land.

“Since we’ve come in to DHHL, we’ve been trying to pick up the pieces” of projects that have been unfinished, he added. “For whatever reasons, that fell through. We just need to make it right. We’ve taken it to heart to resolve as many oustanding issues.”

He said the department was not discriminating against Honda.

“We want to make sure the Hondas are made whole,” Chee said.

Deputy Planning Director Bobby Command said last week the application was likely to get an administrative extension, which is usually granted almost automatically.

Email Erin Miller at emiller@westhawaii today.com.

 

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