Agricultural land bill provides sufficient protections
Cynthia Oi badly misrepresented the Important Agricultural Lands bill in her column of May 14. Her misrepresentations, particularly her silence on provisions in the bill intended to protect the public interest, are appalling.
She is wrong to state that landowners get a free ride through the land use process. Overall, the entire petition must be reviewed by the Land Use Commission, which has the discretion to approve it, with or without specific conditions, or reject it. There is no automatic approval merely because a landowner submits a petition.
Landowners must voluntarily designate their land for IAL, and not all lands will qualify. Only high quality lands with sufficient water to support agricultural production can be considered; the Department of Agriculture must certify the quality. In addition, a party other than the landowner may petition the LUC for a contested case hearing, which is open and evidentiary.
At least 85 percent must be designated as important agricultural lands, while the remaining 15 percent may be reclassified as urban, rural or conservation. The 15 percent, if reclassified to urban, must be consistent with the relevant county general plan and community or development plan. In addition, any major project must also comply with all state environmental impact laws and county zoning ordinances. The latter is important, since any rezoning to accommodate a major project would necessitate county approval after a public notice and hearing process.
Oi states that landowners can just withdraw lands from IAL once the land has been designated. Not true. It would take a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate to permit a withdrawal, and that is a very hard vote to get.
I'm disappointed that environmentalists cannot see the importance of this bill for the viability of agriculture in Hawaii. The IAL bill has the support of the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation, the Hawaii Cattlemen's Council, the dean of the University of Hawaii-Manoa College of Tropical Agriculture, the Maui County Farm Bureau and the state Department of Agriculture. This bill implements a 30-year-old constitutional mandate that protects our prime agricultural lands from further erosion. The future of farming and the ability of Hawaii to grow food locally are at stake.
Rep. Ken Ito is chairman of the House Committee on Water, Land, Ocean Resources and Hawaiian Affairs. Rep. Clift Tsuji is chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture. Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu is the vice chairman of the House Committee on Water, Land, Ocean Resources and Hawaiian Affairs. Rep. Pono Chong is vice speaker of the House.