Protesters: Abolish public lands agency


By PETER SUR

Tribune-Herald staff writer

The Public Land Development Corporation is a terrible mistake that should be abolished, protesters across Hawaii said in sign-waving demonstrations Monday.

At one of the events, about 40 supporters closely aligned with Malu ‘Aina, Occupy Hawaii, the Pele Defense Fund and other community activist groups joined forces Monday afternoon for a two-hour demonstration on Kawili Street in Hilo, near the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ branch office of the Division of Forestry and Wildlife.

The “Repeal Act 55” protest was organized as part of a statewide movement on Discoverer’s Day. Rallies were scheduled in Kailua-Kona, Kapaau, Waimea, Lihue, Kauai, Wailuku, Maui, and Honolulu.

Their target was the PLDC, a central plank in Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s “New Day in Hawaii” initiatives. The architects of the bill in the state Legislature have been taken aback by the groundswell of opposition to the PLDC, which is intended to make better use of Hawaii’s public lands.

Instead, accusations are flying that state Sens. Malama Solomon and Donovan Dela Cruz want to use the entity to “support geothermal and building in rural areas,” as some have said. Former Office of Hawaiian Affairs Moanikeala Akaka, a liberal firebrand, has filed a complaint against Solomon in the Democratic Party of Hawaii, alleging that Solomon, herself a former OHA trustee, has violated the principles of the party by supporting the bill that created the PLDC.

Reached for comment, Solomon referred to a Sept. 13 statement in which she said she is “sorely disappointed that there is so much misinformation, but I also understand the concern. Our public lands are a ‘treasure’ that must be protected.”

Solomon said at the time she hopes the PLDC can replicate the “Yosemite model” that protects the environment while providing jobs for the community.

But opponents of the law point to the heavy-handed way PLDC projects are exempt from “all statutes, ordinances, charter provisions and rules of any government agency relating to … land use, zoning and construction standards for subdivisions, development and improvement of land.”

In an effort to stem the outcry, the PLDC issued a “frequently asked questions” fact sheed in which it clarified that while the corporation is exempt from laws relating to land use and zoning, these activities must be coordinated with the county planning departments and county land use plans, policies and ordinances.

That clearly was not enough to assuage the people at Monday’s protest, most of whom wore red in solidarity. A flier distributed in advance of the gathering displayed a drawing of Abercrombie holding a bag of money and asking “How would you like to have 1.8 million acres of land in Hawai‘i today?”

Chloe Henning of Laupahoehoe said she was demonstrating because “I don’t believe in the privatization of public property, because it means I’d have to pay to Coconut Island.” Coconut Island is owned by Hawaii County and would not likely be taken over by the PLDC, but Henning said she was using that as an example.

Akaka, who held aloft one of Solomon’s campaign signs with a red diagonal line drawn through it, warned that “they can build hotels, parking lots, subdivisions.”

Criticism of the PLDC has gone mainstream, with the Hawaii County Council voting unanimously to pass a resolution urging the Legislature to abolish it. The Kauai County Council has already passed a similar resolution, and on Friday the Maui County Council unanimously voted to advance it in committee.

The PLDC is still in the process of creating its administrative rules, and no projects have been identified. Members of the state Legislature will have the opportunity to address many of the calls to change or even abolish the PLDC when it convenes early next year.

Email Peter Sur at psur@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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