The action marked the last step in creating the new board, which is tasked with choosing the director of the new government entity.

The Maui County Council has confirmed Jonathan Likeke Scheuer to represent the Hawaiian Homes Commission on the board steering the new East Maui Community Water Authority, marking the council’s final action in a heated monthslong process to get it up and running.

Maui County locator map

In an 8-0 vote, council members in attendance during Tuesday’s meeting unanimously voted to confirm Scheuer, a leading Hawaii water law expert and longtime consultant for the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, to fill one of 11 seats on the new water board. Council member Gabe Johnson of Lanai was excused from the meeting. 

“I’ve had the privilege of working with Dr. Scheuer for over 10 years and have found him to have a very staunch desire to protect the equal and fair distribution of this public trust,” Blossom Feiteira, a lifelong Maui resident and a beneficiary currently on the Hawaiian homelands waitlist, told council members. 

Mahi Pono farm fields on Maui.
The new water authority is tasked with trying to acquire the East Maui irrigation system, which once funneled stream water to dry cane fields. The water system is now managed by Mahi Pono, a farming company backed by a Canadian pension fund. (Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat/2023)

Tuesday’s vote was the final step in a fiercely political vetting process that started in early May to choose the first members to steer the East Maui regional board, which was created by voters last year to give rural communities more oversight of the water flowing from their streams. The mayor was tasked with choosing four of the board members, and the council was charged with appointing seven, one of whom must be recommended by DHHL to serve as a representative for the Hawaiian Homes Commission

At one point, prominent Maui developer Everett Dowling tried to influence the process by emailing DHHL Director Kali Watson to tell him not to choose Scheuer for the spot. Dowling instead recommended candidates working in the construction industry. In the days that followed, Watson rescinded Scheuer’s nomination but shifted gears again after widespread pushback from beneficiaries

The DHHL director then paved the way for the Hawaiian Homes commissioners to decide. They unanimously tapped Scheuer for the role because of his “level of expertise that few others have.

“It was kind of wonky in the beginning, and it kind of felt even wonkier here when Dr. Scheuer was appointed and then he was unappointed,” council member Tasha Kama told her colleagues during Tuesday’s meeting. “Then we had the beneficiary community rise up and step up on his behalf.”

A screenshot of the presentation made by agency staff during a recent Hawaiian Homes Commission meeting. (Screenshot/Hawaiian Homes Commission/2023)

Throughout the process, Scheuer, who is from Oahu, received widespread support from Maui community members, who showed up at a several meetings to tell their elected officials about his long track record serving as an advocate for Native Hawaiian water rights and educational leader for communities grappling with water conflicts. Besides serving as DHHL’s key consultant, Scheuer works as a lecturer at the University of Hawaii’s William S. Richardson School of Law and has co-authored the book, “Water and Power in West Maui.” 

“I have known Jonathan for several years, during which time I have witnessed his dedicated and thoughtful approach to complex land use matters,” Race Randle, the CEO of Maui Land and Pineapple, wrote to council members. “I appreciate how Jonathan worked to achieve balance among community, culture and commerce.”

During Tuesday’s meeting, council member Yuki Lei Sugimura explained how she had initially worried about how the new water authority would affect residents and farms in her Upcountry district that rely on the water from East Maui streams. But she told her colleagues that her concerns were eased by interviewing Scheuer and listening to another community leader speak about his work — Lee Ohigashi, Maui’s commissioner on Hawaii’s Land Use Commission, who served alongside Scheuer.

“He’ll take care of our Upcountry residents who will be affected by the actions of the East Maui Water Authority,” Sugimura said.

Now that the new board members have been selected, they must go through more vetting with the county’s ethics board to rule out any financial conflicts of interests. When the board members finally start meeting, they will be tasked with choosing the director of the water authority. 

Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by grants from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation.

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