A bill establishing a temporary working group to help the state acquire lands in Waipio Valley was passed by the state House committees on finance Wednesday with amendments.
SB 3063 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 in an area known as culturally and historically significant.
Senators Gilbert Kahele, D-Hilo, and Malama Solomon, representing areas in Hilo, Hamakua, Kohala, Waimea, Waikoloa and Kona, introduced the bill that was passed by the Senate in March.
The bill next heads to the House floor for a vote.
Prior to the House committee’s amendments, SB 3063 proposed the 10-person working group consist largely of government or business-affiliated representatives, including a member from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, a chairperson of the Board of Land and Natural Resources, the president and chief executive of the Bishop Museum, a member of the Waipio Taro Farmers Association, an executive director of the agribusiness development corporation and the Hawaii County Mayor.
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.
The change came after community members in the valley submitted testimony about concerns they have regarding the legislation.
Jesse Keone Potter, president of the nonprofit group Pohaha I Ka Lani, an organization that works to preserve and restore indigenous Hawaiian culture, said the community at-large was “caught off guard” after catching wind of the bill from an article published in the Tribune-Herald in March.
Potter was among other Waipio Valley community members who submitted testimony April 2 recommending the bill be deferred.
“The trust of the community has already been breached by the top-down approach this bill has taken. We are unaware of any efforts to gather input from the whole community and vested interests in Waipio prior to the bill being written and through it’s entire journey from the Senate to the House,” according to his testimony found online.
Potter said he was pleased to see the latest version of the bill include changes to the proposed working group.
“We are pleased that there has been shift in the working group members towards the community of Waipio and other surrounding and relevant organizations,” he said. “There are still changes to come, yet at least the community has possibly gained a voice in the process.”
Kahele, who said he’s been working on the bill with Solomon, said if the bill passes he intends to address the concerns of the community.
“If it goes through then we will certainly get back to the community and those that have concerns,” he said.
According to the bill, the working group will develop an action plan that explores and identifies important natural, cultural and historic resources for protection at Waipio Valley and identifies conservation options for the protection of the resources, including the purchase of land in the valley.
The working group will also submit a written final action plan with recommendations to lawmakers no later than 20 days prior to the convening of the 2015 regular legislative session.
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