GMO, geothermal, Hokulia and the Superferry are all being brought into the conversation about Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s nominees to several important environmental and land-use boards and offices.
Abercrombie so far is defending his appointees in the face of opponents who are lobbying the state Senate not to confirm them. The Senate has a list of 36 nominees to confirm or deny during the special legislative session that began Monday.
While the main topic of discussion, same-sex marriage, will be in the limelight this week, the important and time-consuming work of screening gubernatorial nominations must also be accomplished in the first legislative session following their appointments, according to state law.
The nominees range from Shawn Smith, a developer of Hokulia-style “gentleman farms” on Kauai for the state Board of Land and Natural Resources to controversial Superferry proponent Genevieve Salmonson’s appointment to the Office of Environmental Quality Control.
“The governor continues to support Shawn Smith in his appointment to the Board of Land and Natural Resources and Genevieve Salmonson in her appointment as director to the Office of Environmental Quality Control,” said spokeswoman Louis Kim McCoy in an email response. “Both are highly qualified and capable of serving the State of Hawaii.”
Other nominees facing opposition include Windward Planning Commission Chairman Wallace Ishibashi to the Hawaiian Homes Commission and Maui Gold Pineapple Co. Director Douglas Schenk to the Agribusiness Development Corp. board. Geothermal energy opponents oppose Ishibashi, while GMO (genetically modified organism) foes oppose Schenk.
So far, Salmonson has been drawing the most vocal opposition. On Friday, nine environmental groups signed a letter to senators saying that Salmonson, as former director of OEQC, bowed to political pressure in exempting the Superferry from the environmental impact statement required by state law and reportedly tried to obstruct the Environmental Council’s efforts from investigating secondary impacts of the Superferry. The project ended up failing after the Hawaii Supreme Court unanimously agreed an EIS was required.
“OEQC needs a director who is committed to environmental protection and upholding the rule of law,” states the letter signed by the Sierra Club of Hawaii, the Outdoor Circle, Kahea, Hawaii’s Thousand Friends, Save Kahului Harbor, Friends of Lanai, Maui Tomorrow, Conservation Council for Hawaii and Puna Pono Alliance.
“Quite simply, Ms. Salmonson does not have the trust of the broader public,” the letter says. “She held the office previously. Her track record is known. She does not have the public’s confidence now, and it is unlikely that she will ever obtain it.”
McCoy said Salmonson’s experience is actually a plus. But the governor’s office is checking with senators after the letter from environmentalists, she said.
“Salmonson previously held the OEQC position for several years under two prior administrations, and therefore has the necessary demonstrated experience,” McCoy said. “We understand that there are concerns that have been raised about her nomination and so the governor’s office has been engaged in discussions with senators to determine her level of support.”
Opposition to Smith is coming from both within and outside the Senate. As general manager of land developer Falko Partners LLC, Smith has been in charge of Kahuaina Plantation subdivision on Kauai which, much like the struggling Hokulia project in West Hawaii, has been subdivided into more than 80 luxury estates on 357 acres zoned agriculture and conservation.
Sen. Laura Thielen, an Oahu Democrat who sits on the Senate Water Land Committee, says she’s confident Smith is a fine candidate who would be great on some other board. Just not the Land Board.
“My biggest concern is the Senate has in front of us someone being appointed to a state land board who is a representative of a subdivision project on Kauai, which appears to be in violation of our state land-use laws,” Thielen said.
Sierra Club Executive Director Robert Harris said his group will likely submit testimony opposing Smith as well. A call left for Smith at Falko Partners was not returned by press time Monday.