Overhaul of land-use regulations being rushed

By Vicky Holt-Takamine and Jonathan Osorio

Aug 29, 2010

In the waning months of her administration, Gov. Linda Lingle is working hard to undo environmental protections before she leaves office.

Using the rule-making authority granted to agencies, Lingle’s administration is proposing a massive regulatory overhaul that would increase commercial use and construction in conservation areas, limit public oversight of government actions, and undermine coherent management of our most precious natural and cultural resources.

In 57 pages of exemptions, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources proposes that nearly everything it does — issuing permits, removing invasive species, transferring land titles — need not undergo any environmental review.

In 71 pages of amendments to the regulations protecting conservation lands, the department proposes to dramatically increase the possibility of construction on conservation lands, remove requirements for comprehensive management, authorize staff to waive requirements, overly limit the public’s right to appeal DLNR decisions, and increase commercial use of protected areas.

Though it is true that these rollbacks are packaged together with improved shoreline setbacks, one good apple does not unspoil the barrel. On the whole, these changes are bad for our resources, bad for government accountability, and bad for the people of Hawaii. These proposed changes will fundamentally alter the way decisions are made for 2 million acres of land and ocean in Hawaii.

That’s 2 million acres of watersheds, nearshore and submerged lands, sacred summits, and former crown and government lands of the Hawaiian Kingdom.

At least 51 percent of “ceded” lands are protected in the conservation district. The state has a legal obligation to protect and manage these public trust assets for the benefit of native Hawaiians and the public.

It is clear to us that these sweeping changes are not receiving the time and consideration they deserve. The proposals were quietly released this summer for minimal public review and are expected to be adopted by December. That means, of her 416 weeks in office, Lingle’s administration will have devoted 11 weeks to the public process for these major regulatory overhauls — that’s just 2 percent of her time in office.

Regulatory overhauls should be done with far more thought and thorough analysis than this timeline provides.

Knowing that bad process begets bad outcomes, the next governor should re-evaluate any decisions made by this administration in its last six months. Or we will surely suffer the sting of this lame duck’s bite for years to come.

Kumu hula Vicky Holt-Takamine and University of Hawaii professor Jonathan Osorio are members of the board of KAHEA: The Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance, a nonprofit organization.

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