Hearings set for proposed long-term A&B water lease

Water from East Maui streams cascades over the Wailoa Ditch in September 2006. Alexander & Baldwin is seeking a 30-year lease from the state to use water from streams in Nahiku, Keanae and Huelo. Public scoping meetings are scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday. The Maui News file photo

The Maui News

Public scoping meetings have been scheduled next week for Alexander & Baldwin’s application to the state Board of Land and Natural Resources for a 30-year lease for water from streams in Nahiku, Keanae and Huelo.

The sessions are set for 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday in Maui Electric Co.’s community meeting room and 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the Haiku Community Center, according to a notice published in the Feb. 8 issue of the Environmental Notice.

Public comments are due March 10. Written comments may be sent to consultant Wilson Okamoto Corp., Attention: Earl Matsukawa, 1907 S. Beretania St., Suite 400, Honolulu 96826.

The long-term lease would be for the continued “right, privilege and authority to enter and go upon” state watershed lands for the “purpose of developing, diverting, transporting and using government-owned waters” through East Maui Irrigation Co.’s aqueduct system. EMI is an A&B subsidiary.

Last year, state lawmakers debated a bill to allow A&B to continue to divert water from East Maui streams, pending the outcome of its application for a long-term lease from the state. Its application was originally filed in 2001. Legislators approved a bill to allow A&B to maintain its water diversions for at least three years under current lease terms.

The EMI system delivered water to former sugar lands cultivated by Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co., which ended operations in December. The water continues to go to the county’s Department of Water Supply for domestic and agricultural use Upcountry, at the Kula Agricultural Park and in Nahiku.

The water lease would not allow the delivery of more water than would be available for diversion after the state Commission on Water Resource Management issues its pending decision and order on interim in-stream flow standards.

HC&S has reported that it needs about 115 million gallons of water per day for its diversified agriculture plans on about 27,000 acres of its former 36,000 acres of sugar lands. Plans call for pastures, orchards, bioenergy crops, an agricultural park and possibly coffee.

Critics of the plantation’s water diversions maintain that the company has not shown sufficient plans to substantiate its claims for East Maui surface water and that it has not explored ways to reduce its water intake. For more than a decade, East Maui taro farmers have asked for diverted water to be returned to streams. Proponents of restoring mauka-to-makai stream flows also maintain that diversions have harmed natural resources and endangered cultural practices.

The water commission has been reviewing in-stream flow standards for more than two dozen East Maui streams that have been diverted through a ditch-tunnel-siphon system built in the 1870s for sugar cultivation Upcountry and in Central Maui.

Early this month, the commission finished oral hearings on Maui. Transcripts are being prepared for those involved in proceedings before the panel to submit proposed findings of fact, conclusions of law and decisions and orders.

Hearings officer Lawrence Miike will make recommendations to the commission.

Parties in the contested case are: HC&S, the county Department of Water Supply, Maui Tomorrow Foundation and the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. which represents Na Moku Aupuni O Ko’olau Hui and individuals Lurlyn Scott and Sanford Kekahuna.

Last year, following an initial contested case proceeding, Miike recommended restoring 18 million gallons of water per day to 10 streams. The commission did not act on his recommendation because it reopened the contested case following A&B’s announcement of the closure of HC&S.

In April, A&B reported that it had fully restored water to three of eight East Maui streams at Wailuanui. There were logistical, permitting and other issues with returning water to the other streams, the company said.

In a separate matter reported on in the Environmental Notice, a finding of no significant impact was published for permits sought by the county water department for a proposed Po’okela well “B” for use as a backup to the existing Po’okela well in East Maui.

The new well would be used if the existing well requires maintenance. No additional aquifer water would be pumped by the well, according to the notice.

“Having a backup well decreases water-related emergencies when the existing well cannot be used,” the notice says.

To view the Environmental Notice, go to health.hawaii.gov/oeqc.