WAILUKU - While most of the comments aired Wednesday night during a hearing at Maui Waena Intermediate School opposed a proposed $200 million ceded lands settlement, the chairwoman of the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs said that the issue was "a done deal for us."
"This meeting shows the due diligence and benefits to the community," said OHA Chairwoman Colette Machado during the lightly attended meeting.
OHA Trustee Carmen "Hulu" Lindsey said that in her travels across the state, attending 11 of 17 meetings statewide, she found that only a vocal minority opposed the settlement between OHA and the state administration of Gov. Neil Abercrombie.
An informal survey shows most people support it, Lindsey said.
Foster Ampong was applauded when he asked that if the settlement were such a great deal, then why not hold a referendum? He also argued that it's a conflict of interest for a state agency to negotiate with the state.
While eight out of 10 Native Hawaiian statewide communities have shown support for the proposal, Maui and Hilo have not, Lindsey said. OHA officials said they would record the comments of the roughly 25 residents at Wednesday's meeting - the second on Maui - for the trustees unable to attend the gathering.
The deal would grant more than 30 acres of what's considered 10 prime Honolulu waterfront parcels at Kakaako Makai to OHA in exchange for the state agency to drop its claims of the state generating revenue on former monarchy lands from 1978 through June. The state Constitution entitles OHA to a share of revenue from lands that were ceded to Hawaii by the U.S. government to be held in trust for the betterment of Native Hawaiians and the general public.
State courts have held three times that the Legislature must approve a settlement deal. Earlier this week, two Senate committees gave preliminary approval for the real estate deal to resolve the decades of back payments owed to OHA.
OHA official Malia Ka'aihue, who led Wednesday's presentation, said that the settlement means OHA would drop its legal pursuits of three sources of revenue on crowned lands: at airport duty-free shops, state hospitals and affordable housing.
"We have a lot of (other) claims outstanding," Ka'aihue said.
The settlement also would have no impact efforts to create a sovereign Hawaiian nation or on "any other Native Hawaiian claims," according to the presentation.
"How can we accept something that we already own?" asked Reinstated Hawaiian Government Minister of Foreign Affairs Nelson Armitage.
Lindsey said that OHA would rather have the money, but it's been a struggle to get the state to move this far. The government is broke, she and others stated.
And the land is expected to increase considerably in value over time, Machado said. The proceeds would be used to continue and grow OHA-supported programs for Native Hawaiian health, education, social services and housing, she said.
"Why not leverage for more land if it will take a lot of time to get the money?" asked Johanna Kamaumu.
Leslie Kuloloio, a Hawaiian cultural expert, said he thinks "we're on the right track where OHA needs to take action."
Ka'aihue said that part of the Kakaako property also is atop filled-in fisheries, which can be built upon, and a layer of ash with poisonous lead from an incinerator covers some of the property. She said the environmental findings were only preliminary.
The environmental issues at Kakaako Makai can be mitigated, for a price, Ka'aihue said.
On the plus side, the property is in a prime oceanfront location, perfect for more growth, with zoning for retail, wholesale, restaurants and bars, parks, museums, farmers markets and docks and piers, Ka'aihue said. The most iconic landmark is probably the old Fisherman's Wharf Restaurant.
Still, the environmental findings "really bothered the board, the trustees," said Ka'aihue, who at times was joined by OHA's head settlement attorney, Bill Meheula.
Ka'aihue also said OHA officials already have applied for a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant worth "hundreds of thousands of dollars" to help clean up brown fields. OHA discovered last week it received the assistance, she said.
The developers and renters haven't run off, since a lot of the neighborhood keeps changing due to kamaaina renovations, she said. A large corporation also plans to build thousands of homes nearby. And Alexander & Baldwin has tried to purchase the string of lots along the waterfront, Ka'aihue said.
The underused land already generates $1.1 million annually, according to the presentation.
Lindsey said OHA officials "studied and studied the offer," which was presented before by former Gov. Linda Lingle with different property. The trustees judge that this is a good deal, she said.
The meeting ended civilly, with some men apologizing for sounding gruff and a woman overheard grumbling about size of the settlement.
Nevertheless, "I think it went very well," Lindsey said, who reiterated greater support for the settlement elsewhere. "Everyone has a right to their opinion."
* Chris Hamilton can be reached at email@example.com.