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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, March 19, 2002

Nomination for water board raises protests

By Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

The governor's nomination of Alexander & Baldwin executive Meredith Ching to the state Water Commission stalled in the Senate yesterday, mainly because of concerns about what many are calling a conflict of interest.

Ching's appointment has raised protests from some environmental groups and others, who say Ching cannot work for Alexander & Baldwin — one of the top water users on Maui — and effectively protect water resources at the same time.

They also said that the six-member Commission on Water Resource Management does not include a person representing the environment or public at large and that Ching's appointment would contribute to an imbalance in the commission.

Ching is vice president of government and community relations at A&B, which also owns Matson Navigation Co., Kaua'i Coffee Co. and Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co.

She was previously vice president of A&B's natural resources development.

Following a 2 1/2-hour hearing, Senate Water, Land, Energy and Environment Committee Chairwoman Lorraine Inouye said she would postpone decision-making on Ching's nomination until tomorrow because the committee members who were present could be in a deadlock. More members would need to weigh in for the measure to move to the full Senate, she said.

More than 130 people submitted testimony on Ching's nomination. Nearly 90 expressed support.

Sierra Club director Jeff Mikulina said his opposition has nothing to do with Ching's integrity, but that it is based on an "irreconcilable conflict of interest" between Ching's professional obligation to A&B and her duties of upholding the state water code.

Ching said she would recuse herself from any issue involving A&B and that it is unfair to assume that "I operate in lock step with my employer."

"Every day, I play a number of roles," she said. "I certainly don't carry my A&B persona and values over to those roles, in fact they are often in conflict. ... I understand the role of a commissioner is different from my role at A&B. and I believe I can separate the two."

Some wondered, however, how effective Ching would be as a commissioner if she were to recuse herself from A&B issues.

The Senate committee also yesterday endorsed the nomination of Clayton Dela Cruz, division director of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Local 142 Kaua'i Division, to the water commission. Other commission members are: Board of Land and Natural Resources chairman Gilbert Coloma-Agaran; Department of Health Director Bruce Anderson; Brian C. Nishida, vice president and general manager of Hawai'i Del Monte Fresh Produce Inc.; and Herbert "Monty" Richards Jr., president and board chairman of Kahua Ranch.