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Council wants county to pursue East Maui water leases | News, Sports, Jobs - Energy And Water Development Corp

Council wants county to pursue East Maui water leases | News, Sports, Jobs

The Maui County Council has expressed interest in the county pursuing the long-term East Maui water leases pending before the state Board of Land and Natural Resources, Council Member Shane Sinenci announced Friday.

Sinenci introduced a resolution that was unanimously adopted by the council on Jan. 7, urging the mayor to propose an agreement with the state “to provide a long-term, reliable and affordable source of water for county domestic and agricultural use.” The council raised concern with issuing long-term water leases to private, for-profit entities, and pointed to a Board of Water Supply temporary investigative group recommendation that the county look into acquiring the leases for the Nahiku, Keanae, Honomanu and Huelo license areas.

Council Chairperson Alice Lee also expressed the council’s interest in a letter to BLNR Chairperson Suzanne Case on Jan. 21, describing the county as “an ideal lessee for the East Maui water leases.”

“When a private, for-profit entity acquires the right to water, the water becomes an economic commodity,” Sinenci, who holds the East Maui residency seat, said in a news release Friday. “By acquiring these leases, the county has the opportunity to manage the water source as a public trust, assure equitable rates for all farmers and further the county’s and state’s goals of food security and sustainable local agriculture.”

Alexander & Baldwin and its subsidiary East Maui Irrigation Co. operate the complex water delivery system that long diverted East Maui streams to Central and Upcountry Maui for sugar operations. With the sugar plantations now closed and EMI co-owner Mahi Pono now farming land in Central Maui, A&B and EMI have been seeking a 30-year water lease for about 33,000 acres of state-owned land in Nahiku, Keanae, Honomanu and Huelo. BLNR accepted an environmental study for the leases in September, but the decision did not guarantee a water lease.

In 2019, the Board of Water Supply’s temporary investigative group put together an 85-page report on the feasibility of purchasing and maintaining the EMI water delivery system. Board Chairperson Dean Frampton said in a letter to the mayor and council on Jan. 6 that the board, by unanimous vote, is now “encouraging the County of Maui to pursue the feasibility of acquiring the leases” for these areas.

Sinenci said that Ian Horikawa, the state Department of Land Natural Resources’ special projects coordinator, has advised the council that the county can acquire the leases through an intergovernmental agreement initiated by the county administration.

State and federal officials have expressed support for the county acquiring the leases. Hawaiian Homes Commission Chairperson William Aila Jr. cited Maui County’s obligations as a municipal government to provide water to the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.

U.S. Sen. Kai Kahele, who represents Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District that includes Maui County, said in a letter to the mayor that it was in the county’s best interest to secure a lease “and to free itself from the dependency on private, commercial, third-party operators who are not duty bound, as we are, to uphold the state’s public trust obligation to conserve and protect Hawaii’s natural resources for the benefit of present and future generations.”

Sinenci said he’s also pursuing legislation to create a water authority with water system management expertise to efficiently and equitably manage water systems acquired by the county.

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