Coalition contests water leases on Maui
By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Maui County Bureau
WAILUKU, Maui The leases that allow Hawai'i's largest sugar producer to transport billions of gallons of water annually from the vast East Maui watershed to its Central Maui plantation were challenged yesterday by a Native Hawaiian group hoping to restore natural stream flows.
The state Board of Land and Natural Resources granted a contested-case hearing on the issue and deferred approval of the one-year leases granted annually to Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. for the water rights to 33,000 acres.
The board voted to continue the present leases on a month-to-month basis while the issue is hashed out in a court-style hearing.
Discussion on the company's request for leases granting the water rights for a 30-year period was tabled as well.
HC&S is asking the department for the long-term guarantees on the water, saying assurances on about 60 billion gallons a year is essential for the long-term viability of a company that produces 60 percent of the state's sugar.
Yesterday's board action followed a daylong hearing in which many environmentalists and Native Hawaiians opposed the company's request.
But HC&S had lots of supporters as well, including scores of workers wearing bright red HC&S T-shirts.
The contested-case hearing was filed by the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. on behalf of Na Moku Aupuni Ko'olau Hui, a nonprofit Hawaiian organization based in the East Maui villages of Ke'anae and Wailua Nui, as well as three individuals who live in Huelo, another East Maui town.
In its petition for the hearing, the coalition objects to the "dewatering'' of streams of East Maui and seeks the restoration of natural stream flows and the protection of their rights to use water for uses such as growing taro.