UPDATED: 11/9/2012 10:45 a.m.

The last time the state Public Land Development Corporation held public hearings on controversial new rules for the agency hundreds of people showed up at meetings all over the state to demand that the PLDC be abolished.

Another hearing on another version of those rules is scheduled for next week in the same small Honolulu meeting room that forced an overflowing crowd out of the room. And the Tuesday hearing has been set for 10:30 a.m., a time agency critics say is aimed at ensuring as few people as possible will be able to attend.

“I think it is pretty obvious by what they are doing, that they really don’t want a lot of public input,” said Robert Harris, executive director of the Hawaii Sierra Club.

Lloyd Haraguchi, executive director of the PLDC, didn’t return a phone call Thursday, but told Civil Beat last month that the meeting was scheduled during the day so that board members might be able to attend. Critics had accused PLDC board members of ducking the last meetings because they were so controversial. William Aila, chair of DLNR, was the only member to attend.

But as of Thursday, the meeting is still set for the small DLNR board room on Tuesday morning.

The Sierra Club calls it “a new low” for the agency that is responsible for enlisting the help of private companies to develop public lands.

PLDC supporters say the agency, created last year, will bring in revenue for the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources to help further its conservation mission as well as shore up aging state infrastructure and facilities.

But the PLDC has met stiff resistance. The first hearings in August attracted nearly 700 people throughout the islands, most of whom came to call for the repeal of the PLDC, warning that it threatened the state’s cultural and environmental resources.

PLDC staff subsequently amended the rules to expand community input during the project review process and emphasize environmental safeguards. The law requires that if substantial changes are made to administrative rules than they must go back out for public comment.

During the first hearings, PLDC staff traveled to all of the islands except for Lanai and held the meetings during the evening. The meetings often grew raucous and dragged on for hours. Many of the people testifying didn’t comment on the specifics of the rules, which was the intention of the meetings.

But this time, there is only one meeting — in Honolulu at DLNR’s Kalanimoku Building, in a board conference room. It’s the same location that angered the public last time because the majority of people that showed up couldn’t fit in the cramped space. A crowd gathered outside to watch proceedings on a screen set up by Olelo, Hawaii’s public broadcasting station.

Last month, Sen. Malama Solomon, who has supported the PLDC and helped craft a strategic plan for the agency, told Civil Beat that she was pushing to have the location changed to the auditorium of the state Capitol building.

Solomon said Thursday she didn’t know why the location hadn’t been changed.

But Harris said that at this point it probably didn’t matter because the morning meeting time likely prevents many people from showing up for the hearing.

“I’m not sure the board room is inappropriate to the extent that they are doing it in the middle of the day during a week day when you would anticipate people not being able to attend,” he said.

UPDATED: Solomon asked the attorney general’s office on Thursday whether the meeting could be moved to the Capitol Auditorium. In an email forwarded to Civil Beat by Solomon’s legislative aide, Linda Chow, a deputy attorney general, responded that it was too late to change the meeting location.

“Because the notice is required to be given 30 days in advance of the hearing and the notice is required to contain the date, time and location of the hearing, once the notice is published, that information cannot be changed,” wrote Chow. “The only way to change the location would be to issue a new notice and wait another 30 days.”

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