(BIVN) – Department of Hawaiian Home Lands officials were put on the spot last week during a senate committee hearing concerning a contract to remove cattle from Humuʻula lands on Hawaiʻi Island.
The Hawaiʻi State Senate Committee on Hawaiian Affairs held an information briefing on May 1st to hear an assortment of updates from DHHL administrators on a variety of different issues. The department is tasked with getting beneficiaries off a long waitlist and into housing.
A top concern for Hawaiʻi Island state senator and committee vice chair Kai Kahele is a contract that is about to be awarded for cattle removal on DHHL ʻAina Mauna lands.
“We just want to be very careful, because we know that this is very contentious,” said DHHL director Jobie Masagatani.
According to their presentation, DHHL officials are looking to remove the cattle from ʻAina Mauna because the animals “inhibit native forest restoration which makes land more susceptible to spread of gorse.” DHHL also says there is a “strong link between cattle and the spread of Rapid ʻOhiʻa Death”.
A summer 2017 survey estimated that 450 cattle remain in the Humuʻula area, and DHHL figures 260 cattle must be removed per year. The contract would be for a license to reduce the cattle population in that area.
DHHL also wants to contract out for the removal of cattle in Piʻihonua.
“From what I have heard,” stated Senator Kahele during the committee briefing, “and what has come out in the community which is obviously unverified, is that an Oʻahu-based applicant is being awarded the Humuʻula contract. Who scored last on the Piʻihonua contract, and leapfrogged to number 1 on the Humuʻula contract. And that applicant has not had previous experience in the Humuʻula or Piʻihonua paddocks. That the other applicants have extensive experience. One has been doing it since 2010 in the Piʻihonua paddock, and in the Humuʻula paddock – the other applicant has extensive experience under limited right of entry for years.”
“I’m having to deal with this in the homestead association meetings that I go,” Kahele said. “And what I don’t want is any type of selection process that has been not done in the appropriate way. And I would weigh – beyond just a price per cattle – I would weigh other benefits that potential applicants are offering, whether it’s scholarships or grants to local native Hawaiian programs, or helping with the gorse removal, fencing, reforestation. It shouldn’t just be: we’re removing cattle over the next two years to eliminate all the cattle on the Mauna.”
Hawaiian Home Lands officials could not get into specifics about the procurement since the contract has not been officially awarded, yet. Masagatani said that’s why “having a selection process that is as rigorous as a 103d process is so critical, because as you know there can be a lot of rumor and discussion that may or may not be true. So certainly there is issues, following how the Commission votes at the end of May, all of that information now becomes public. If one of the non-selected vendors wants to bring a challenge forward, they certainly can. We certainly can hold off on final negotiations on the license if such a challenge comes forward. All of that information then becomes public.”
Kahele cautioned, “if you award a non-Hawaii Island applicant a contract on ʻAina Mauna, we’re gonna have major problems.”
“I wouldn’t go to Molokai or Kauai to do something there,” Kahele said. “It’s beyond following our procurement. Its doing the right thing on each of our islands and honoring our homestead associations and our beneficiaries.”
“I appreciate your comments,” Masagatani said. “That’s, I think, why the Commission made the decision to defer final decision-making until we were actually on island, to afford testimony.”
The Hawaiian Homes Commission will be in Waimea in May 20 and 21. The decision on awarding the contract will be made at that time.
Jobie Masagatani is out as Hawaiian Home Lands chair and DHHL director. The deputy director, William Ailā, will serve as interim chair for now.