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Public land debate not settled


Tribune-Herald staff writer

The Public Land Development Corp. has been repealed and a bill to create a similar agency has died in the state Legislature.

But the debate over what to do with underutilized public lands remains anything but settled.

Rep. Cindy Evans, who introduced the PLDC repeal bill Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed Monday afternoon, said interest in generating revenue from public lands “remains as strong as ever,” though lawmakers are aware of the need to get the public on board following the backlash against the development agency.

“It was a good idea,” Evans, D-Kohala, North Kona, said of the PLDC. “The solution was not a solution that was acceptable to the public.”

Abercrombie made a similar statement when announcing the repeal, which occurred without a bill-signing ceremony.

“As with any new law, public understanding and support are essential,” he said. “In the case of the PLDC, best intentions and the potential for public good could not be reconciled with public concerns.”

The Legislature created the PLDC in 2011 to pursue public-private partnerships to develop state land. But controversy started the following year during public hearings on its proposed administrative rules when some state residents became alarmed over its exemptions to county zoning and building codes.

The Hawaii County Council passed a resolution urging its repeal, as did Kauai and Maui counties.

“Unfortunately, it was a badly written law,” said Councilwoman Brenda Ford, who introduced the county’s resolution. “It upset everybody.

“I’m very happy the governor signed it,” she added, referring to the repeal bill.

Lawmakers also considered a bill to create a “public-private partnership authority” this session. It was modeled after the PLDC, but didn’t include the same exemptions.

That bill passed the Senate but has died in the House, according to the office of state Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, who introduced it.

Former Mayor Harry Kim, who ran for mayor again last year partially to voice his displeasure with the PLDC, said the public has become “empowered” through the repeal effort.

“What I hope is learned is people truly realize they empowered it,” he said.

Lawmakers are taking another swing at a land development bill, though one that has been far less controversial.

House Bill 865 would allow unused school land to be leased with revenue used to upgrade Hawaii’s schools through a three-year pilot program.

Versions of the bill have passed both chambers, and House and Senate leaders are scheduled to meet Thursday to work out the differences.

Lessees would have to use the land for a “public purpose,” according to the bill, with facilities reverting to the Department of Education when the lease ends.

All revenue would be used to for upgrading, maintaining or constructing school facilities.

Abercrombie has pushed for the legislation, noting limited funds for school infrastructure.

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