After receiving more than 800 emails from residents in three days last week, the Hawaii State Association of Counties joined the chorus of opponents asking for the repeal of Act 55, the law that established the Public Land Development Corp.
HSAC President Mel Rapozo, a Kauai County Council member, announced the organization voted unanimously to lobby for the law's repeal in the 2013 legislative session.
The act, passed last session, allows the corporation to develop state lands to generate revenue for the cash-strapped state Department of Land and Natural Resources. But the organization is too autonomous and powerful, said critics like Senate President Shan Tsutsui, who represents Central Maui.
"The governor has said, 'Give this a chance, and let's see where it goes first,' " said Donalyn Dela Cruz, spokeswoman for Gov. Neil Abercrombie.
She also said project proposals would be beholden to each community. The board must go through "tons of (public) meetings and major steps along the way," she added.
"The public should give PLDC a chance and judge it on (the) projects it proposes," said DLNR and PLDC Chairman William Aila Jr. via email Wednesday. "Calls for repeal are premature."
Nevertheless, Tsutsui said he would introduce bills to repeal or rein in the PLDC, and West Maui state Rep. Angus McKelvey agreed.
"Powers have called into question the PLDC's ability to be not only effective, but also respectful of Hawaiian values and traditions while averting any real or even perceived fears of corruption," Tsutsui wrote in a statement.
Maui community advocate Mahina Martin said it's just a bad law. While the five-member board has appeared to have "remarkably softened" the language after statewide hearings, she and other critics remain suspicious of the agency.
It's also unfair to schedule one public hearing for 10:30 a.m. Nov. 13, a Tuesday, in Honolulu before the vote on setting up the corporation's board, Martin said.
The drafts (available online at hawaii.gov/dlnr/pldc/rules) would set up new proceedings for the board, contested case hearings, amendment petitions and rule changes. The agency's goal is to make the best use of public lands for Hawaii's economic, environmental and social benefit.
"Giving any particular group unlimited power where they can circumvent our ordinances and various policies is like saying, 'Anything goes,'" said incoming HSAC board member Mike Victorino, who holds the Maui County Council's Wailuku-Waihee-Waikapu residency seat.
He said at least lawmakers could make the PLDC more palatable.
The council unanimously moved forward to committee this month an anti-PLDC resolution. Kauai and Hawaii county councils also passed repeal resolutions, and Honolulu's council is expected to take the matter up.
* Chris Hamilton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.