Hawaii’s Agriculture Could be in Big Trouble

Agriculture is in BIG trouble if certain provisions of SB 2646, HD 1 passes this week  In one of the most brazen moves by the House and Speaker Say in recent memory is the ploy to hold the mandatory solar heating bill (SB 644) hostage to what the House has spun as the Ag "Incentives" bill (SB 2646, CD 1), so the latter can get out of conference committee for a floor vote.  The story is as slimy as it gets – see details below from Sierra Club (esp. section highlighted).

In short, the bill provides landowners a huge potential windfall.  The two most notorious sections would open up current Ag District lands for Urban and/or Rural District uses, either of which could negatively impact ag and lead to the kind of abuses currently illegal in the Ag District, but to which counties have been turning a blind eye.  This bill would legitimize such uses in the future. Some major features:

(1)  Allow landowners to reclassify their 15% of their lands to urban or rural under an expedited Declaratory Ruling Petition if they designate 85% of their lands as "important agricultural lands" (IAL).  The implication of using this procedure is to avoid contested case procedures, which would otherwise apply, in favor of only public hearings. 

(a)  Moreover, instead of having to meet the 8 criteria set by the 2005 Legislature to designate IAL, a landowner combining lands under this declaratory order procedure need only meet TWO (2) of the eight (8) regular criteria.  That means that lands that might not otherwise qualify as IAL under current law would qualify easier, in order for landowners to get the 15% "gift" of reclassifying to urban or rural.  The result: a landowner, to qualify for the 15% "gift" of reclassified land, need only designate IAL without regard to whether actual agriculture is feasible on it or whether the IAL conforms to "general, development, and community plans of the county."  See, section 18 of SB 2646, CD 1, under the proposed HRS sec. 205-44(b). 

(b)  For landowners like Alexander and Baldwin and Wailuku Agribusiness, this bill also gives it the opportunity to get state tax credits for attempting to deprive taro farmers of water from streams by allowing it tax credits for "qualified agricultural costs" supporting IAL use.  These costs not only includes the costs for the repair and maintenance of irrigation ditches and transmission facilities, but the legal costs of fighting for permits against others, which could include taro farmers, in order to provide water to IAL.  See section 4 of SB 2646, CD 1, under the proposed new HRS sec. 235-__(k), items 1 and 4. 

(2)  The only apparent restriction on this brazen expedited land development scheme is the requirement that any land slated for the Urban Districtconform with "general, development, and community plans of the county."  However, there is NO similar restriction for lands one can seeks to reclassify to the "Rural" District, which would allow for luxury residential subdivisions that would otherwise be illegal under the Ag District, after the Hokulia decisionThe most prominent example of where it can benefit the landowner is reclassifying such proposed developments as Hokulia and La`au Point into the Rural District, both of which are now pending before the LUC.  

(3)  Holding SB 644 (the mandatory solar heater bill) as hostage to get this bill pass Conference Committee only adds insult to injury.  the two are NOT linked logically.  The ploy is a brazen power play to force the Senate to put up SB 2646, CD 1 up for a floor vote.

Your only chance as advocates for true farming is to call or email legislators to let them know how you feel about passing SB 2646, CD 1.  Please call/email your legislators NOW to stop the biggest land development grab in history, now disguised as a IAL incentive measure. 


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