The House voted Thursday evening to approve a bill that lets Alexander & Baldwin continue leasing stream water from East Maui, to divert to farmland in Central Maui, where the last sugar mill in Hawaii is soon to close.
That sets up House Bill 2501 for its final vote in the Senate on Tuesday. If passed, the bill would then head to Gov. David Ige for his signature.
“In addition to HB 2501, these funding initiatives will let us tackle the very complicated issue of water rights, not just on Maui but throughout the state, in a more comprehensive and sustainable way that will allow us to assess the use of drinking water, ranching, agriculture and power generation far into the future,” House Speaker Joseph Souki, who represents parts of Maui, said in a statement after the vote.
Rep. Kaniela Ing, who represents south Maui, speaks out against the Maui water-rights bill before it passed the full House on Thursday. Rep. Feki Pouha, in the foreground, also voted against it.
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The measure passed with Democratic Reps. Lynn DeCoite, Kaniela Ing, Jo Jordan, Jarrett Keohokalole, Matt LoPresti, Nicole Lowen and Angus McKelvey voting against it, along with Republican Reps. Lauren Matsumoto, Feki Pouha and Andria Tupola.
A House-Senate panel agreed last Friday on the final language of the legislation after hours of negotiations and public protests at the Capitol.
Key aspects include: three consecutive, one-year holdovers to be renewed annually; a requirement that the use of a holdover be consistent with the public trust doctrine; annual reports submitted by the Department of Land and Natural Resources to the Legislature through 2020; current pending applications before the state land board to be included in this act; and a repeal date of June 30, 2019, according to a House release.
The measure made it through the House, but far from unanimously, as most bills do. And some lawmakers — including Keohokalole and Ing — changed their support from yes with reservations to no.
Ing told his colleagues on the House floor before the vote that they had a choice between decimating local kalo farmers or barely denting the bottom line of a major corporation.
“Let the end of the plantation era signal the end of the plantation mentality,” he said, noting the need for residents to break free of the dependency of mainland-owned corporations and instead fight for self-determination.
Lawmakers also budgeted more staffing for DLNR — including a hydrologist and project development specialists for public-land management, for the disposition of water-rights lease management and oversight — and $1.5 million for a broader study on streams statewide, the release says.
LoPresti, who along with Ing was among the few to speak out before the final vote, had a simple message:
“E ola e ka wai. E hoopuhemo i ka wai,” he said. This roughly translates from Hawaiian as: “The water is sacred. Do the right thing and set it free.”