Ceded land settlement deserves fair hearing by legislators
An agreement between the state and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs on ceded lands will need the approval of the Legislature.
It would not be surprising if an agreement on how to portion revenues from ceded lands to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs becomes one of the most contentious issues the Legislature takes on this year.
Many organizations and individuals have opposed entitlement programs for the islands' native people, misunderstanding or disputing objectives of Congress and the federal government in attempting to rectify an injustice.
At the same time, there are those who won't be satisfied with what they might consider half-measures in reclaiming a Hawaii lost in the 1893 overthrow of a kingdom and the subsequent U.S. annexation.
Still others will see as too little the share of revenues, which is required by the state Constitution through the 1978 amendments that also established OHA.
Moreover, the possibility of future claims to public lands remains open under the settlement. Even though OHA would release additional claims to income and proceeds from the public land trust, a yet-to-be-established Hawaiian governing entity would not be similarly bound.
The agreement announced last week will sign over three pieces of state land and about $13 million in cash to OHA. In addition, the agency with the responsibility of expanding opportunities and programs for Hawaiians and promoting Hawaiian culture will continue to receive $15.1 million a year in ceded land revenues.
Though the 195 acres of land -- two parcels on Oahu and one on Hawaii island -- are valued at $187 million, they are dwarfed by the nearly 2 million acres ceded to the United States. Further, two of the sites are problematic.
Hotels on the Hilo property have leases from the state that expire in seven years. OHA says it will abide by the leases, but uncertainty about the long term could affect owner investments in the properties, which are Hilo's lodging mainstays, and eventually decrease revenue.
The agreement also includes about 18 acres at Kewalo Basin that were part of a controversial redevelopment plan, including condominiums, hotels and retail ventures. The Legislature eventually passed a bill that halted the project.
While OHA would gain title to the land, it will remain under the jurisdiction of the Hawaii Community Development Authority with OHA allowed one member to join the dozen others, raising questions about how much control of the property OHA will have.
The long-sought agreement will not satisfy all of OHA's beneficiaries, and it is sure to provoke OHA's opponents, but it should receive a fair review.