Wednesday, March 24, 1999

Big Isle man
must remove
businesses on
home lands

'They're making sure
Hawaiians never get
ahead,' he says in protest

By Rod Thompson
Big Island Correspondent


HILO -- The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands needs to provide industrial land for its beneficiaries but is prevented from doing so by law, says department head Ray Soon.

Because of the restriction, the department has ordered beneficiary Wendell Kaehuaea to remove five businesses, including about 650 junked cars, from his 20 acres of agricultural land in Hilo's Panaewa area.

Kaehuaea has until July 1 to remove the businesses or lose his right to live on the land. "They're making sure Hawaiians never get ahead," Kaehuaea said.

Income from his subleases sent three of his five children to college and is now financing his own education at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, said Kaehuaea, 56.

Soon said, "We're sympathetic. The Hilo economic situation is tough. It's tough everywhere."

But the Hawaiian Homes law passed by Congress in 1920 allows only residential, agricultural, or ranching leases to beneficiaries, Soon said.

It also allows "general" leases including industrial uses to Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians. But those go to the highest bidder, not to beneficiaries in need, he said.

"Is a law written in 1920 relevant in 1999?" Soon asked.

"We need other alternatives in the Hilo area for these types of activities. I think what Wendell is saying is not completely without merit."

The department was forced to act because of several complaints about Kaehuaea by other beneficiaries, Soon said. A two-year review, including courtlike hearings, resulted in a final ruling against him in December.

Kaehuaea says businesses on his land include three auto recycling companies, a trucking firm and a bulldozing company.

Hilo Auto and Truck owner Jim Kierkiewicz, subleasing from Kaehuaea for more than five years, says Kaehuaea has benefited the community by providing a place for auto parts recycling.

Kierkiewicz said he's looked at other locations. "You can't make your business work profitably. If forced to move, I'd have to go out of business."

He'd also lose $25,000 invested in Kaehuaea's land.

Frank Lawrence, owner of C&F Trucking, has also looked at other sites. "The price is unreal," he said. If forced to move, "I'd stay alive, but hanging on by a thin thread."

As many as five beneficiaries in Hilo may be improperly subleasing their land to businesses, Soon said. Kaehuaea said as many as 15 businesses could be affected here, and similar activities are taking place at Hawaiian Homes locations around the state.

Soon said the department isn't planning a "concerted" effort to go after other sublease violations.

He recognized the difficulty of doing agriculture on Hawaiian Homes land. "A few are making it. Many are not."

Kaehuaea said he tried bananas, cucumbers, and hydroponics on 10 acres, "going broke successfully." Now he has five acres of coconuts, lauhala, and "money" trees, and is just breaking even.

"I tried this (industrial activity) to push the envelope," he said.

Soon said Congress might change the Hawaiian Homes law to allow industrial activity by beneficiaries, but it would take a long time. As a comparison, former Hawaiian Homes commissioner Eleanor Ahuna noted it required 20 years to convince Congress to lower the blood quantum for beneficiaries from one-half to one-quarter.

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