State officials sound off over rejected land deal

Honolulu, Hawaii (AP) 3-08

State Attorney General Mark Bennett said recently that the Lingle administration was disappointed state lawmakers had scuttled a proposed $200 million settlement with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

The settlement aimed to resolve a 30-year dispute over former Hawaiian kingdom land revenues.

Staunch opposition from Native Hawaiians persuaded lawmakers to kill the settlement deal, which Gov. Linda Lingle and OHA announced in January after four years of negotiations.

“We thought that that settlement was fair and reasonable, and we’re disappointed, very disappointed, that it was rejected,” Bennett said.

OHA chairwoman Haunani Apoliona also expressed her opposition to the decision by lawmakers.

“It really basically derailed an effort to resolve disputed issues that are nearly three decades old,” she said.

Native Hawaiians said they felt the settlement didn’t give enough payback, was rushed through the process and perpetuated more than a century of wrongdoing.

Sen. Clayton Hee, D-Kahuku-Kaneohe, who was OHA chairman when former Gov. Ben Cayetano attempted to negotiate a different settlement, said that OHA and Bennett failed to explain how they arrived at the $200 million figure. Hee voted to reject the bill.

“The public should never be left out of how you arrive at a figure that the public is going to fund,” he said.

The rejection was a quick turnaround for the proposed settlement, which passed the House with only two “no” votes earlier this month and hadn’t run into major opposition in earlier hearings.

But dissatisfaction grew after several Hawaiian groups said they were concerned it would forfeit their rights, and 42 public meetings held by OHA failed to convince Hawaiians it was in their best interest.

A joint session of three Senate committees heard nearly five hours of testimony before voting unanimously to hold the bill, effectively killing the legislation for this year.

“We have succumbed to the dictates of a small group of vociferous and sometimes obnoxious protesters rather than doing what is prudent and necessary to move the state forward,” Sen. Fred Hemmings, R-Lanikai-Waimanalo, said Tuesday.

Opponents of the legislation said they did not feel OHA consulted Hawaiians before announcing it.

In a statement released recently, OHA Administrator Clyde Namuo said the office would “review all the legislative and legal options available before deciding on the next course.”

The settlement was an effort to end a fight over how the state should meet its constitutional obligation to pay the Office of Hawaiian Affairs income from land ceded to the U.S. government.

The proposed agreement would have handed over more than 200 acres from the state government to the OHA, including about 80 acres of the Big Island resort area along Banyan Drive in Hilo. It also would have required annual payments to OHA of at least $15.1 million as well as a one-time $13 million payment.