HILO — The state Public Land Development Corp. hasn’t finalized its administrative rules, but Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille wants Hawaii County to be prepared in the event those rules infringe upon Hawaii County’s home rule powers.
Wille, an attorney who has a pending suit against the state over the public’s right to public lands in an unrelated case, has scheduled a 45-minute discussion about the potential impact of the PLDC for the County Council Planning Committee’s 1 p.m. Tuesday meeting. The public can weigh in on the issue in council chambers in Hilo, or by videoconference from the West Hawaii Civic Center, the Hawaiian Ocean View Estates Community Center or the Waimea or Pahoa council offices.
The PLDC was created by the Legislature in 2011 to generate revenue by developing public lands through public-private partnerships. Although it passed the Legislature almost unanimously with little public outcry, it quickly became controversial, with opponents worried development with little public oversight could wreak havoc on the state’s environment.
Hawaii County, with the most undeveloped public land, has the most to lose, said Wille, and she wants the council and the community to have a better understanding about whether the appointed five-member board could override county zoning and land use codes.
“Most of this is public lands under the public trust. The state is the trustee for Native Hawaiians and the public,” Wille said. “You are accountable to those beneficiaries. You’re not just acting like this is private property to do with as you will.”
After a series of public hearings, where opponents in force came out on most major islands, the PLDC is currently meeting with stakeholders on revisions to its draft rules. Those meetings don’t include county representatives, but PLDC Executive Director Lloyd Haraguchi said in an email that he hopes they can be included later, “as we continue the process.”
“While the PLDC is exempt from county zoning and land use laws under Act 55, the law does require us to coordinate our land planning activities with the county planning departments and the county land use plans, policies and ordinances,” Haraguchi said in his email response Thursday to a West Hawaii Today telephone message.
The Hawaii County Council in October unanimously passed a resolution asking the Legislature to repeal the PLDC, with Hilo Councilman Dennis Onishi voting kanalua, signifying he had reservations about the measure. Kauai and Maui have passed similar resolutions, but the issue was dropped from the Hawaii State Association of Counties legislative package when the City and County of Honolulu balked.
Wille said the county has a responsibility to hold fast to its local laws, and she wants a thorough understanding about which laws could be jeopardized by state action. She also wants the PLDC’s administrative rules to be more clear on the public’s right to judicial review to have legal standing to contest the agency’s actions in court.
Wille said she hopes the public continues to pay attention to the issue.
“It really is something that affects us in the long term,” Wille said. “Are we selling out our watersheds? Damaging our reefs with coastal development? You basically have this little dictatorship.”