DOA Put on Spot

Governor’s Advisory Council invites community to voice MIS concerns.

By Jennifer Smith

Community members continue to take issue with the management of the Molokai Irrigation System (MIS). Despite several strides made by the Department of Agriculture (DOA) to address recommendations from a state audit report released last February, the broken water system continues to operate with an unknown future.

In the midst of questions and contention the DOA has been able to cross off several items from its extensive to do list including taking an inventory of the MIS, and addressing employee safety issues. By the end of this month policies, procedures, and a state readiness/emergency plan is also scheduled for completion.

“We are pleased with the progress we are making” in terms of communication, said Duane Okamoto, deputy chairperson for the Board of Agriculture, during last Tuesday’s Governor’s Molokai Community Advisory Council (GMCAC) meeting. Okamoto and DOA Asset Manager Randy Teruya were invited to the meeting to give a presentation and answer questions from the council and community members on the DOA’s progress in the past few months.

Finance recommendations listed in the February audit were misleading, according to Okamoto who said some of the tasks such as tracking revenues and providing quarterly reports were already taking place.

Water Cutbacks
As of June 1, the DOA is mandating all non-homestead users to cutback water usage by 20%.

“None of this will affect the homesteaders at this point,” Teruya said, adding that it will prevent current non-homestead users from expanding planting during this summer’s expected drought season. Meters will be read every Monday morning to ensure that non-homestead users adhere to the cutbacks.

Before its most recent acquisition of Molokai Ranch land, Monsanto asked the DOA if it would service an additional 300 acres near Mahana. The DOA denied the request because water restrictions prevented service of the area.

Monsanto has most recently asked the DOA to increase pumping to the reservoir, but no decisions have been made at this time.

“It totally offends homestead farmers,” when they see the big sprinklers Monsanto is using, said Hanohano Naehu, Hawaiian rights advocate.

Two Thirds Representation
Other recommendations for the DOA came from last year’s Road Map to improvement meetings, which were created to address the tense relationship between the DOA, MIS Water User Advisory Board (WUAB), and MIS users.

“It’s been a really contentious year between the users, advisory board, and DOA,” homestead farmer Walter Ritte said during his testimony to the GMCAC. He came to the meeting with several requests for the council to pass on to the governor.

The most frequently mentioned problem falls on the lack of adherence to the homesteaders’ 2/3 right to water. The DOA says it recognizes the homesteaders’ 2/3 right to the water; however, “that water is never set aside for the Hawaiians,” Ritte said. According to the audit report nearly 80% of the MIS water consumed goes to non-homestead users.

Naehu and Ritte agreed that adding 2/3 homesteader representation on the WUAB would greatly improve the homesteader, DOA, and user relationship. Ritte also asked that the homesteader representatives have no ties to seed companies, that the WUAB continue meeting every month – instead of the proposed change to every other month, and to have DHHL take over the MIS, after it is repaired. “That would solve a lot of problems.”

The department is looking to the community and MIS WUAB for further input on how to address the audit report’s and homesteaders’ recommendation to add additional homesteader seats on the board, and on whether or not to adopt a more aggressive collections policy.

Unpaid Bills
Okamoto said unpaid water bills were reduced by about $100,000, but that around $200,000 remains outstanding. The DOA has written guidelines with a strict collections policy; however, Teruya said the department is asking for assistance to decide on how aggressive of a collections policy to take with delinquent account holders. Nearly 85% of the outstanding balance is owed by 12 of the 240 account holders.

If the outstanding debt was cleared it would help the DOA to purchase much needed items, such as a new backhoe, Okamoto said.

The audit report asked the department to create a “wish list” for the system. According to Okamoto last year’s wish list was essentially fulfilled, the list consisted primarily of operational materials and supplies such as welding masks and sockets.

GMCAC chairperson Janice Kalanihuia asked if the wish list shouldn’t contain bigger items such as a backhoe, or the new Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system that would increase employee safety by allowing control of the water system from remote locations.

The SCADA system was among the items listed in the DOA’s proposed Capital Improvements Project (CIP). Unfortunately due to budget limitations, the replacement of the electrical cable and air relief and blow out valves received priority. Teruya said the DOA will have to wait a couple of years for the SCADA system to be financed.

West End Utilities Update
GMCAC member and homesteader Kammy Purdy asked Okamoto for an update on Molokai Properties Limited (MPL) and the MIS, the former largest employer on the island announced last month that the company would abandon all water services on Molokai.

“We haven’t had any communication with them,” but they continue to pay their monthly bill, Okamoto said.

The next MIS meeting will be July 15 in the MIS office in Ho`olehua.


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