Gov. Ige Carries Water for A&B


Media Contact: Marti Townsend, 808-372-1314

Gov. Ige Sides with A&B Over Public’s Interest in Protecting Streams

Sierra Club responds to Gov. Ige’s Statement

Today, Governor David Ige issued a statement urging lawmakers to pass HB1326 HD2, a bill that extends temporary permits for access to water to 13 permit holders.  Four of those permits, held by Alexander & Baldwin, were invalidated by a circuit court ruling in 2016. Passing HB1326 HD2 would allow A&B to circumvent the court ruling and retain $62 million from the sale of their central Maui sugar plantation to Mahi Pono.

In response, Marti Townsend, Director for the Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi issued this statement:

We are deeply disappointed in Governor Ige’s decision to use the power of his position to pressure lawmakers to pass a version of HB1326 that guarantees A&B retains $62 million in profit from East Maui’s public stream resources.  We went to the Governor’s office yesterday in good faith to collaborate on a proactive path forward for small water users based on existing legal authority. The Governor betrayed that good faith with a statement that attempts to influence lawmakers to change a decision that has already been made, attempts to justify sidestepping a court ruling, and specifically names the opponents of the bill that he met with but not the supporters.

This crisis is manufactured.  The Ige Administration was granted a three year extension on the issuance of these revocable permits in 2016, immediately after the circuit court decision in the Carmichael case was issued. In that three years, DLNR did not propose any fixes to Haw. Rev. Stat. §171-58, did not adopt regulations to clarify their implementation of this statute, or otherwise actually attempt to solve this problem.  DLNR staff did continue to renew holdover permits, and issued a letter to the 9 other revocable permit holdovers that only served to fuel concern for their future access to water.

What did actually happen in the three years since the last extension was granted is, A&B:

  • Closed its sugar plantation in central Maui, laying off hundreds of workers

  • Converted its corporation to a Real Estate Investment Trust, to reduce its tax burden for all the commercial real estate it profits from

  • Sold its defunct sugar plantation to Mahi Pono for $262 million.

The contract for that land sale makes clear that if the new buyer does not have guaranteed access to 30 million gallons of water a day from East Maui streams through 2026, then A&B will return $62 million to the new buyer.  HB1326 HD2 would extend A&B’s current four temporary water permits through 2026 with zero recourse for the residents of East Maui.

Governor Ige’s statement fails to acknowledge the legal responsibilities of his Administration to protect public trust resources from exploitation. This is an obligation that has been repeatedly upheld by Hawaiʻi’s highest court of law. Instead his statement feigns fairness by claiming to support equal treatment for all permit holders.

Yet, the different entities relying on these permits for access to public water resources are not all the same.  Of the 13 permits at issue, four are held by A&B, arguably one of the most powerful and influential corporations in the Hawaiian Islands. The four permits held by A&B have been invalidated by a court of law, and that decision is on appeal. The remaining 9 permits are held by two utilities operating hydroelectric power plants, and seven smaller entities and individuals watering crops and animals. None of these 9 permits have been challenged in a court.

After 6 hours of verbal testimony, hundreds of calls and emails from constituents, and over 600 written testimonials received in opposition to HB 1326 HD2, the Senate Water and Land Committee, chaired by Senator Kaialiʻi Kahele, crafted a version of this bill that addressed the perceived needs of the small water users and utilities, while respecting the judicial process. If Governor Ige were truly interested in helping small water users, and not advancing the special interests of A&B, then he should have made a statement in support of that bill. Unfortunately, he did not. At least now everyone knows where he stands in regards to the last of the Big 5 companies that once dominated the Hawaiian Islands.

The Ige Administration has all the legal authority it needs to provide access to public trust water resources. It is time to DLNR to take seriously its responsibility to protect the public’s natural resources from exploitation.