BLNR approves A&B’s continued E. Maui stream water diversions

Company will have access to up to 80 million gallons daily for a year

Alexander & Baldwin Inc. and its subsidiary East Maui Irrigation will be able to divert as much as 80 million gallons of water per day on average from East Maui streams for a year, the state Board of Land and Natural Resources decided Thursday.

The board’s action came with a number of conditions, including one requiring no wasting of water and another prohibiting diversions from Honomanu Stream. And, the board said it would revisit the amount of water allowed for diversion after the state Commission on Water Resource Management rules on in-stream flows for East Maui streams.

A&B spokesman Darren Pai released a statement on the board’s action Thursday. It said: “This decision will allow us to continue making progress on our diversified agriculture plan. We are bolstering Maui’s cattle industry, collaborating with partners who plan to grow crops for renewable energy, and working with local farmers looking to expand their businesses.

“Over the last year, we have met with some 200 parties interested in farming our former sugar lands,” Pai said. “So far, we have 4,500 acres being actively farmed and ranched, with an additional 15,000 acres in active negotiations for leases. And we’re working with Maui County on an 800-acre agricultural park for farmers interested in smaller plots of land. This pace of interest is very promising.”

But Lucienne de Naie, the president of the Maui Tomorrow Foundation and vice chairwoman of the Sierra Club Hawaii Chapter, attended Thursday’s meeting on Oahu and said Friday that she had urged the land board to defer making a decision on A&B’s holdover revocable permits for water until more and better information is available.

For example, it remained unclear — after the last year’s shutdown of A&B’s 36,000-acre sugar plantation — how much water would be needed for A&B’s transition to diversified agriculture, she said.

Another unknown is what the water commission will decide about East Maui stream-flow recommendations by contested case hearings officer Lawrence Miike, who issued his findings in August. He has recommended restoring 26.5 mgd to 12 streams, 8.5 mgd more than he initially called for in January 2016 before becoming aware of the ending of sugar operations. And, he proposed setting maximum water requirements at 83.75 mgd for A&B and 16 mgd for the county Department of Water Supply.

Miike’s recommendation has been supported by A&B and the county, but changes have been called for by Maui Tomorrow and Na Moku Aupuni O Ko’olau Hui, a community of taro farmers, fishermen, hunters and traditional practitioners in East Maui. In 2001, that group filed a petition to amend the flow of 27 East Maui streams that A&B had been diverting since the 1870s for sugar cane crops.

In a separate lawsuit, Na Moku won a case in the 1st Circuit on Oahu in January 2016 that invalidated the land board’s practice of extending revocable permits on a “holdover” annual basis to A&B from 2001 to 2004. The case is currently on appeal.

The Legislature stepped in later that year and approved a measure that extended the land board’s practices for three years or until A&B’s pending applications for water rights were resolved. Gov. David Ige signed the measure into law.

De Naie said A&B should “not get all the water in the streams without proof that they have a need for it.”

She said there’s little to no accountability of water diversions and evidence of water dumping.

“There’s no accountability for what’s happening,” she said.

The state doesn’t send out officials to monitor stream diversions, which are not easily accessible, de Naie said.

A&B should work cooperatively with community members, fix roads in watershed areas and allow community members to check out keys to gain access to stream diversions, she said.

In written testimony to the land board, Sierra Club of Hawai’i Director Martha Townsend said A&B and EMI maintain a number of padlocked gates that cut off public and community access to public lands that lie adjacent to lands controlled by the company, and she said the company has stopped maintaining access roads that lead to stream diversions.

“These factors greatly limit public access,” she said. “The revocable permits issued do not authorize A&B to restrict public access in this way.”

Townsend called on the land board to require A&B to provide East Maui community groups that maintain streams and ‘auwai with keys or codes to access the gates and to maintain access roads.

She told the land board it should deny A&B’s request for holdover water permits for 33,000 acres of public land.

“The land board cannot justify authorizing another year of diverting 80 million gallons of public water every day for the profit of a single corporation,” she said. “A&B/EMI’s long history of excessive water diversions has directly harmed the communities downstream that struggle to obtain sufficient water supplies for daily use, family farming and traditional gathering practices.”

De Naie said the board added conditions that the amount of water permitted for diversion would be adjusted to comply with the water commission’s upcoming decision on East Maui in-stream flows. The board emphasized that A&B’s use of water needs to be productive and not wasted, she said.

A&B will be required to clean up old pipes and concrete that are debris from water diversions, she said. And, the board called for establishing a clear directive for A&B to remove diversion dams and other obstacles that prevent fish and other stream life from migrating up and down streams, she said.

In a status report on proposed conditions for the revocable permits, A&B reported that sluice gates were removed or fully opened for the Wailuanui, Makapipi, Hanawi, Waiohue, East and West Wailuaiki, Waikamoi, Kapiliula and Puakaa streams. All diversions were closed and sealed for the Waiokamilo Stream in 2007, the company said.

The water commission had ordered that streams that were no longer being diverted should remain undiverted.

Also, A&B is awaiting permits to remove all diversion structures, the company reported.

The company said it has taken other steps to comply with the commission’s orders to stop stream diversions. Also, it reported that company representatives reached out to members of the East Maui community to address stream diversion concerns.

Rick Volner Jr., A&B’s general manager for diversified agriculture, said the company is preparing an environmental impact statement for the stream diversions as required by the land board. A preparation notice was published Feb. 8.

* Brian Perry can be reached at bperry@mauinews.com.


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