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Abercrombie: NPS not justified in seeking water designation

Updated: 
March 27, 2014 - 12:05am

Some Hawaii residents and groups are abusing the state’s environmental rules, Gov. Neil Abercrombie said Wednesday.

“I don’t think it’s proper environmentalism at all,” he said during his annual speech to the Kona Kohala Chamber of Commerce at King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel. Proper environmentalism would be “looking at environmental effects, not whether somebody’s feelings were hurt.”

Abercrombie’s comments came in the context of a conversation that began with the National Park Service’s request to designate the Keauhou aquifer a water management area. Hawaii County’s Department of Water Supply voted this week to oppose the request.

The National Park Service has no justification to add another layer of review to project development, Abercrombie said.

Further, he said, while he has confidence in the water commissioners — whom he appoints — to make the “right decision” on new projects, the designation would allow people to stop projects without a legitimate, legal reason to do so.

On Maui, where a designation is already in place, some people are doing just that, he said.

“The facts don’t matter,” Abercrombie said. “The science doesn’t matter. The laws don’t matter.”

Opponents are using laws as a “bludgeon,” the governor said.

That’s true for other Big Island projects, he added, included the Queen Kaahumanu Highway widening work, the Thirty-Meter Telescope and Pohakuloa Training Range.

Opponents “will use supposed environmental laws and say they’re being violated,” Abercrombie said. “You can’t come into court and say, ‘I didn’t like the result.’”

Instead, he said, the court has to consider whether the law was followed.

“The law has been obeyed in my estimation,” he added.

With regards to Queen Kaahumanu Highway, Abercrombie said his administration is doing everything federal officials have requested.

“We are taking every step every time a barrier is thrown up,” he said. “We’re moving just as fast as physically possible and legally possible. … It’s unconscionable it’s going on like this.”

The state first awarded a contract for the highway’s second widening phase in 2008. A series of bid protests, followed by cultural and archaeological concerns were compounded by federal procedures that have prevented construction from starting.

Abercrombie vowed to consider recreational and noncommercial users of Keauhou Bay, where a proposed change to the mooring configuration has been somewhat controversial.

“If other moorings undermine recreational and noncommercial use, we won’t go forward,” he said. “There will be no movement ahead on the commercial side to disadvantage the recreational side.”

The governor also said now that the state’s economy has been growing for several years and has the revenues to pay its bills and refill some of the funds used during the economic downturn, he is also seeing resources he could devote to tasks such as agricultural inspection.

“We need a permanent core of invasive species fighters,” he said. If we do that, we’re going to blossom economically.”