More than 100 people gathered at the North Hawaii Education and Research Center in Honokaa on Sunday to discuss a Senate bill that would establish a temporary working group to assess the future of Waipio Valley.
SB 3063 was passed by the state House committees on finance Wednesday. The bill creates an avenue for the purchase of land in the valley from the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, and establishes a working group to address issues of preservation.
The community spoke out at the meeting about the proposed working group, and questioned how the sale of Bishop Museum land to the state would effect residents who currently lease the land for farming and cultural and educational outreach programs.
Rep. Mark Nakashima, a Democrat representing Hamakua, North Hilo and South Hilo, led the discussion.
He told the crowd that the bill stems from House Bill 414, a measure that he formulated in an attempt to develop a working group for the valley since discussion about Bishop Museum selling its parcels of land has been in the works for a while.
“We’re doing everything we can to keep Waipio Valley how it is today and preserve the land …,” he said. “What I had envisioned is to get the community together to talk about how we might move forward in this process.”
However, a majority of the community members present Sunday said they hadn’t heard of SB 3063 until an article was published in the Tribune-Herald in March, after the bill had already passed over from the Senate to the House.
Sens. Gil Kahele, D-Hilo, and Malama Solomon, D-Hilo, Hamakua, Kohala, Waimea, Waikoloa and Kona, introduced the measure. Kahele previously told Stephens Media that if the bill passed then he would meet with valley members.
“If it goes through then we will certainly get back to the community and those that have concerns,” he said.
The progression of the bill prior to seeking community input concerned those present at Sunday’s meeting.
“The intentions are good, but in someways backwards. But that’s OK, we’re not going backwards, we’re going forward,” said Jim Cain, a taro farmer in the valley.
Cain was among around 60 residents that gathered at the Waipio Valley Lookout prior to meeting with Nakashima. The group motioned to re-establish the Waipio Valley Community Association, which has been inactive for decades, and to submit individual testimony stating their concerns about SB 3063.
Jesse Keone Potter, president of the nonprofit group Pohaha I Ka Lani, an organization that works to preserve and restore indigenous Hawaiian culture, assists his wife, Kulia Kauhi Tolentino, with her educational outreach program in the valley.
He said he’d like to see some of the bill’s language removed or refined.
One part of the bill reads “the Legislature further finds that the acquisition of privately owned lands or interests in lands in Waipio Valley would enhance public access to and permanent protection of these resources.”
Potter said he’d like to see the enhance public access portion removed and that the language focusing on the protection of the valley’s resources be moved up in the bill.
Lanakila Mangauil said he’d like to see the working group consist of valley residents.
“There’s the issue of if they don’t sell the land to the state, it could be sold somewhere or to someone else,” he said. “We’ve got to work together on this.”
The latest version of the bill suggests the working group include members from the Kukuihaele-Waipio Community Association, The Waipio Taro Farmers Association, non-commercial taro farmers, The Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Waipio Valley small land owners, Friends of the Future, Kanu o ka Aina Learning Center, Hawaii County Council, Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Mauna Kea soil and water conservation district, the legislature and the Waipio Valley kupuna.
Before amendments were made by the House last week, the previous working group consisted of largely government or business-affiliated representatives, including a member from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the president and chief executive of the Bishop Museum, a member of the Waipio Taro Farmers Association and an executive director of the agribusiness development corporation.
A representative from the state Public Access Office said the House will review SB 3063 today. Following the vote, the bill will head back to the Senate for review.
If the Senate is in agreement with the changes made to the bill, then SB 3063 will head to Gov. Neil Abercrombie for review.
The proposed Waipio Valley Community Association will meet again on Sunday at 1 p.m.
Email Megan Moseley at mmoseley@hawaiitribune- herald.com.