Senate panel should reconfirm Young
A Senate committee will consider the land and natural resources director's reappointment.
PETER YOUNG'S tenure as chairman of the Department of Land and Natural Resources has not been without conflict, and events on his watch, like the Ka Loko reservoir breach, will fuel discussions and questions when a Senate committee considers his reconfirmation this week.
The importance of the job -- directing the sprawling agency that manages the state's most valuable assets -- warrants close review. But judging from his first-term progress, Young deserves to be returned to his post.
Early on, Young's tenure was marked by controversy -- including his support for a luxury development on agricultural land, the slow pace of inventory of ceded lands and disarray in the historic preservation division -- that had conservation, Hawaiian and environmental groups heatedly calling for his removal.
Since then, however, Young has shifted gears. Today, he has won the endorsement of nearly 20 organizations that span a range of interests. Among them are Ilioulaokalani, Historic Hawaii Foundation, Hui Malama, The Nature Conservancy, KAHEA, the Sierra Club, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the Trust for Public Land.
In an unusual coalition, these groups, fishers and others have aligned themselves with the Senate Republicans advocating for Gov. Linda Lingle's appointee.
The groups that once opposed him describe Young as open to their opinions, and willing to compromise and seek solutions. Though they continue to have differences, he has been even-handed in asserting the agency's mission to protect the state's resources. One calls him the "most improved" player on Lingle's team.
This ability to adjust makes Young a good chairman. The department's jurisdiction -- more than a million acres of land, coastal areas and historic sites, and fresh and ocean waters -- and its myriad duties from invasive species to camping permits are a huge responsibility. Decisions on such far-reaching issues are bound to chafe someone, and a drive to oust Young has been mustered by opponents of the state's recent fishing restrictions.
Senate Democrats might have their own misgivings; some have been critical of the division that enforces conservation regulations. However, a large part of the department's deficiencies can be laid at lawmakers' feet as they have failed to allot adequate funding for decades.
Even this year, the governor's request of 50 new enforcement staff members has been cut by more than half in the Senate -- and to eight in the House.
The Ka Loko disaster will weigh heavily in this week's reconfirmation hearing, and while Young was at the helm at the time, other factors, such as a missing spillway and unpredictably heavy rain, came into play.
It would be unfair to Young and to the interests of the community to use Ka Loko to deny him reappointment.