Despite legislative setback, OHA will pursue land settlement
In a joint public hearing this week, three Senate committees voted to reject a bill to approve the proposed settlement of past due amounts from the Public Land Trust owed to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. House Bill 266 had been overwhelmingly passed by the House with only two representatives voting against the bill.
The vote by five senators to hold a proposed settlement is a bitter blow to those who have waited 30 years for the state to fulfill its legal obligation to OHA.
This is a setback, but we will not give up. We are meeting with legislators to respond to false statements raised in testimony, and continuing to hold community forums to receive feedback. A joint resolution, authored by the Senate and passed in January, requires OHA to report to the Legislature by this Wednesday with public comments and suggestions on improving the settlement terms. For five senators to make a decision before even receiving community response is disrespectful of the legislative process and those who participated in the statewide community meetings.
The five senators should reconsider their action by letting the full Senate decide or at least provide an alternate plan. We are working with the House leadership to find another vehicle that will allow us to keep the settlement agreement alive and incorporate the changes requested in community meetings. We will fulfill our commitment to finish the 46 scheduled community meetings and compile a report for the Legislature due this week.
It is our fiduciary duty and kuleana to press forward, and we are asking everyone -- both Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians -- to make decisions based on facts, not election-year agendas. Three issues in particular have been raised in community meetings and we are addressing them:
» The Kalaeloa Makai lands in the settlement agreement are "toxic dumps." The Kalaeloa Makai land is zoned industrial. Because of its previous use as a feedlot, existing environmental studies indicate there might be contaminants but that can be reasonably mitigated. A Phase II environmental assessment is under way, and OHA will continue studies on all parcels if the settlement is passed. OHA's objective is to obtain land that can generate revenues in the future so other pristine land can be preserved.
» No settlement can be reached without a complete inventory of ceded lands and revenues. Such an inventory would be a tool for a native governing entity in pursuing the ownership claims to ceded lands. We strongly support the state compiling an inventory of ceded lands, but such an inventory is not required to settle the amount of past due disputed income and proceeds. OHA is seeking its unique right to a portion of income and proceeds from lands that produce income, and the state reports that information under terms of Act 178 passed in 2006.
» OHA failed to account for beneficiary input in the process of reaching a settlement agreement. The Board of Trustees, elected to carry out OHA's constitutional and statutory mandates, have negotiated a proposed settlement in order to respond to their mandates and the desires of beneficiaries that have been expressed for 30 years: get paid for what is past due and gain more resources that can be used for beneficiary programs. The accord itself was reached after a mediated negotiation that lasted more than four years. It was not a secret that OHA was negotiating with the state, and the Legislature has been specifically and publicly advised of these negotiations since 2003. The negotiations followed numerous well-publicized lawsuits, legislation and discussions between the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and previous governors. Because of the confidential nature of negotiations, OHA had planned a series of community meetings to provide details of the agreement prior to legislative enactment. In addition, public hearings during the legislative process have provided many opportunities to comment for both Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians.
The legislative process is not over. We are hopeful that before the Legislature adjourns, we will have a settlement agreement that is fair, just and reasonable. It is our duty to persevere, and we will do no less for the Hawaiian people. Ho'omau a holomua kkou.
Haunani Apoliona is chairwoman of the Board of Trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.