(ABOVE VIDEO) An emotional Bo Kahui details the ongoing struggle of fellow homesteaders in Kona to coexist with strict new federal conservation rules.
Video by David Corrigan, Voice of Sherry Bracken
KEALAKEHE, Hawaii – Stakeholders affected by proposed habitat and water designations in Kona are working to settle their differences with the feds.
For months the west side of the Big Island has tried to come to grips with the sweeping Critical Habitat proposal by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The designation effects numerous areas, none greater than Kealakehe, which was slated to be the center of the region’s urban growth. In October of 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a proposal to list 15 species under the Endangered Species Act, and to designate 18,766 acres of critical habitat in West Hawaii.
Speaking before the Office of Hawaiian Affairs board of trustees on Wednesday night (Sept. 17), La’i’Opua 2020 Executive Director Bo Kahui said they are on the verge of coming to an agreement that they hope the federal government will accept. La’i’Opua 2020 is the non-profit serving as the charitable arm of Hawaiian Homeowners Association for Kaniohale subdivision built by the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands. Kahui said that recently, the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, along with several other landowners in the region, signed an MOU – or Memorandum of Understanding – to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They are still waiting for the feds to sign in response, he said at the time.
“We have given land,” Kahui said with a tear in his eye. “Unfortunately. We gave 30 acres of homestead land away. Plus $3 million for the life of 20 years to manage these preserves. I always felt a little pilikia about that. Because that land was not designated for that purpose. When you take money out of the trust, you take money away from home development. That’s not good for Hawaiians. Certainly not good for Fish and Wildlife. We gotta change that somehow.”
“We hope we can change and get that thing shifted, so they can no longer come and attack our lands again,” Kahui said.
Kahui said the designation could have an impact on the proposed county Kealakehe Regional Park, as well.
“They (U.S. Fish and Wildlife) took all 200 acres under that designation,” Kahui told OHA, “and so we had to fight for that. The county gave up land and money to settle.”
The experience with U.S. Fish and Wildlife may have influenced Kahui and others in their stance against another proposed designation being brought forward by the feds. The National Park Service is asking the State Water Commission to designate the Keauhou Aquifer of North Kona as a Water Management Area for groundwater. The Keauhou Aquifer provides all the water for West Hawaii between Hokulia to the south and Makalawena to the north.
Earlier this year, Kahui and the homesteaders appeared to be on the fence about the water designation. But now, he is dead against it.
“All of our community stakeholders within the region oppose the aquifer designation,” Kahui told the board. “We don’t believe that the science that’s available today justifies the aquifer to be designated. Hawaiian Homes has some reservations. But the Homestead Association, La’i’Opua 2020, had sought to oppose this. And we had sought to oppose this in writing to the Commission on Water Resource Management.”