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Thursday, December 7, 2000

Ceded land
inventory likely
to cost a bundle

A state auditor says
that the $500,000 suggested
by the Legislature probably
won't do the job

By Pat Omandam

The cost of a definitive inventory of the state's ceded, or public trust, lands will be far more than the $500,000 authorized by state lawmakers last year, according to a consultant hired by the state auditor's office.

OHA logo While it may be a daunting task to create an information system that can trace each acre of former crown land since statehood, it is not impossible, said Russell Figueiroa, senior vice president of RM Towill Corp.

"It can be done," he said. "But it is not going to be inexpensive."

Last spring, about the same time the state and the Hawaiian community were trying to decipher the legal fallout from the U.S. Supreme's Court Feb. 23 ruling on Rice vs. Cayetano, the Legislature asked the state auditor to design a comprehensive system for a long-awaited inventory of public trust lands.

The lack of an accurate ceded lands inventory remains a sore point in negotiations between the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the state, which have waited more than 18 months for the Hawaii Supreme Court to rule in the dispute over past-due revenues from portions of ceded lands.

Cost estimate coming up

Both sides failed to reach a settlement and broke off talks in April 1999.

The auditor's office awarded a $153,540 contract to RM Towill Corp. last month to conduct a two-phase sampling project to do title searches, surveying, mapping, digitizing and other work using the geographic information system as the foundation for the comprehensive public land trust system.

The detailed maps could also be used by state departments to cross-reference information about state land. The contractor is proposing that the Legislature choose one central agency to manage the information system.

By month's end, the company expects to know how much it would cost to conduct a full inventory and will submit a status report to the Legislature on Jan. 29, Figueiroa said.

To pay for the sampling project, lawmakers asked OHA and the state to pay $250,000 in matching funds.

Stalled by disagreement

In 1997, the Legislature had asked each side to pay $500,000 for a ceded land inventory, but disagreements over the scope of the inventory and changes in leadership on the OHA board stalled that effort.

Van Lee, state assistant auditor, said yesterday that Towill's contract is to identify what it will take in methodology, time and money to come up with the "definitive" inventory. Once that is known, the auditor's office will return to the Legislature for additional funding, and a contract for the full inventory will be put out to bid.

"Obviously, $500,000 is not going to be enough to do an inventory of ceded lands," Lee said.

"But it is enough for us in the first phase to determine what's going to be needed."

Figueiroa said he believes a full inventory system could be done in two years. The cost, however, would exceed even the $1 million lawmakers authorized in 1997. The state auditor in 1986 conducted an inventory of ceded lands, but it mainly focused on lands under airports and highways, he said.

Meanwhile, Figueiroa believes that the 1.8 million acres of land generally considered today as public trust land is inaccurate and that the total acreage may be between 1.2 million and 1.4 million acres.

Some land counted twice

The difference, he said, is because some parcels were double-counted since statehood. Also, in classifying its public trust lands, the state may have lump ceded and non-ceded lands together.

"What they've done is that, if in a particular parcel, the majority of lands were ceded, then they would say OK, then these 10,000 acres are ceded land when that may not be true," Figueiroa said.

"It may be 8,000 acres are ceded and the rest non-ceded. So everything is kind of a hodgepodge of entities mixed up in classification."

A brief, cursory review that began last week so far has identified two parcels of ceded lands that are privately owned and not owned by the state.

Figueiroa said some land titles won't be clear-cut and will have to be decided in court between OHA and the state.

A new OHA board is expected to be sworn-in within a few weeks, but it is uncertain if the board will reopen ceded land negotiations with the state.

OHA Special

Rice vs. Cayetano arguments

Rice vs. Cayetano decision

Holo I Mua: Sovereignty Roundtable

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