(BIVN) – The Senate Committee charged with vetting nominations to the Hawaiʻi Board of Land and Natural Resources does not support the return of a longtime board member from Hawaiʻi island.
On Monday, the Senate Water and Land Committee, chaired by Hilo State Senator Kai Kahele, voted to not advise and consent to the nomination of Christopher Yuen.
Yuen, a Hilo-born former county planning director, previously served on the land board as the Hawaiʻi island member from 1990 to 1998, and again as the at-large member from July 2014 to the present.
“The chair finds that extending the nominee beyond his 14 year long tenure on the Board of Land and Natural Resources would inhibit efforts to promote the kind of open-mindedness, accountability and innovative thinking ideal in the public servant who assumes this profound kuleana that comes with this decision,” Senator Kahele said. He stated:
There was overwhelming testimony and evidence that the nominee has failed to employ his full authority as a BLNR member to protect the public’s interest in our state’s public trust resources. The nominee’s candid responses during the two Water and Land Committee hearings made plain that vital information gathering, mitigation opportunities, enforcement authorities have been underutilized to the detriment of our natural resources. And that additionally, after reviewing a small sampling of the board’s published meeting minutes, questions began to surface as to their accuracy and integrity and extent to which the nominee’s personal bias interfered with the objective recording of the board’s decisions. This issue is of particular concern to the chair because such actions could undermine the public’s trust and confidence in this agency’s actions.
Sen. Kahele later went into specifics:
After reviewing the nominees’ decisions over his latest term on BLNR, the chair has come to the conclusion that the nominee demonstrates that he has failed to employ his full authority… as a BLNR member to protect Hawaiʻi’s public trust resources. During our committee hearing we had asked questions in regards to the Kahala Hilton Hotel, the Kaloi Gulch, the revocable permit task force, the stream diversion and the East Maui watershed, Na Pua Makani wind farm in Kahuku, and finally we questioned the nominee about specific BLNR meetings and those minutes that the nominee has at least admitted to have prepared on multiple occasions. One board member also raised a question of the nominees eligibility to be nominated to this position based on Hawaiʻi Revised Statutes § 171-4, which states and has apparently been part of Hawaiʻi’s law since 1962, that among other things that the Board of Land and Natural Resources terms and qualifications of the board should be that there should be not more than three members on the board from the same political party.
Chair Kahele said he “believes that Mr. Yuen is a very thoughtful and highly educated person and his prior service to our state is sincerely and deeply appreciated,” however he also “believes it is time for a change and wishes the nominee well in his future endeavors.”
Senators Nishihara, Riviere, and Fevella voted in line with Chair Kahele’s recommendation against Yuen. Senator Keith-Agaran voted no to the chair’s recommendation in support of Yuen.
The nomination will next go to the full senate for its final vote.