HONOLULU - Two Maui residents have become the Commission on Water Resource Management's newest members.
The state Senate confirmed Gov. Neil Abercrombie's two appointees Tuesday - honeybee farmer Jonathan Starr and land appraiser Ted Yamamura.
Despite protest from legal experts, environmentalists and Native Hawaiians, only a few senators raised opposition to the two candidates on the floor.
Sen. Clayton Hee, D-Kahuku-Kaneohe, was among those who questioned whether Starr and Yamamura had the significant experience in water resource management and Native Hawaiian water rights required to serve on the board. He noted that they were both friends he had known for decades, and he was questioning only their expertise, not their character.
"I do not believe Mr. Yamamura is qualified," Hee said.
Starr was appointed to be a Hawaiian culture expert, which also made Hee skeptical. According to Hee, when he asked Starr what qualified him to speak on Hawaiian issues with expertise, Starr told him he consulted with Native Hawaiian leader Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr. (Maxwell died March 15. He was 74.)
"I said to him, 'That doesn't make you an expert. That makes you smart,' " Hee said.
Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, chairman of the Water, Land, Housing committee, said the committee advised the Senate to confirm both Starr and Yamamura.
By the time the nominees come before the state Senate, they've already been vetted by a nominating committee and selected by the governor. It's up to the committee to consider the information before them and ensure that the process has been followed. As Dela Cruz noted, there is no geographic requirement for the commission's makeup. He also pointed out that the nominating committee followed the procedures, as set forth in Hawaii law.
"I believe the information showed overwhelming support," said Dela Cruz, D-Kaena-Wahiawa-Pupukea.
Maui senators J. Kalani English and Roz Baker both defended the appointment of the Maui members.
"The bulk of the issues and the hotbed of concern are on Maui," said Baker, D-Honokohau-Makena.
A fight over how much water can be diverted from streams for private use by large agricultural operations has drawn the attention of Earthjustice, the Sierra Club, the Hawaiian Legal Corp., and other groups that held a news conference Monday to oppose Yamamura's confirmation.
After more than an hour of debate, the full Senate voted to confirm Starr 22-3. Nineteen of 25 senators supported Yamamura's confirmation.
Senate President Shan Tsutsui, who represents Central Maui, said Yamamura and Starr are "highly qualified individuals who will contribute to the commission with their background and expertise."
According to an announcement of the confirmations from the Senate, Starr has more than 40 years of experience in water source development and resource management projects. He also has studied and has expertise in traditional Hawaiian and Polynesian water resource management techniques. He has served on the Maui Board of Water Supply and the Maui Planning Commission.
Yamamura is one of the founders of ACM Consultants Inc., a real estate consulting, valuation and research company, the announcement said. He has been a past member of the Board of Land and Natural Resources; former president of the International Right of Way Association, Hawaii Chapter No. 30; a current member of the Maui Board of Water Supply; and the past president of the Hawaii Chapter of the Appraisal Institute.