On an idle Wednesday this last week, a thunderclap of a bulletin came across the 5:00 p.m. local news. After years of dispute – stretching from the demise of the sugarcane industry to the halls of Hawaii’s legislature – an agricultural water rights agreement on Maui was finally reached.
The water rights issue on Maui had become one of those legacy “grievance issues” that I even cited as one reason why Hawaiian activists have been so up in arms. For years big agri-corporate interests – in this case Alexander & Baldwin – asked and got permission to utilize a great amount of the fresh water in Maui’s mountains for sugarcane production.
When sugarcane ended it’s run on Maui a couple of years back, a new entity, Mahi Pono, bought up a good deal of the land used for sugar, for the purpose of diversified agriculture. The permit for water use, though, was an outstanding item.
It seems, though, that when you bring people together, from diverse stakes, and talk through the issues, there is the ability to have an agreement. In this case, Mahi Pono talked with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA), Earthjustice and a community group of taro farmers and kuleana landowners called Hui o Na Wai Eha.
Everyone was a stakeholder, everyone came to the table with their minimum list of needs, and it seems that no one was ready to yield on their basic points.
But what it seems happened was that the main player in this – Mahi Pono – did make a clear move of compromise by reducing its water request. While it seems that Mahi Pono might be the loser, as it seems no one else really compromised, it resulted in an agreement by which, for the time being at least, the issue has been put to bed.
This is a point that Keliʻi Akina, Trustee for the OHA, told me when I talked to him that Wednesday night. He said that all parties involved did not want the water rights issue to become yet another flashpoint of conflict between Hawaiians and the rest of the state’s people.
Trustee Akina then said something that I thought could be built upon – that OHA needs to step up it’s leadership on these issues to find solutions. Paring the agreement with the clarion call together, it is plausible to think that there should be more of a call for OHA to step into the other “sticky” issues and start to be a leader in addressing them.
Yes, I know, OHA is not exactly the most trusted body, and it has its fair share of critics due to boneheaded moves it’s done in the past. However, in a state which is devoid of any visionary direction on any issue, with it possibly facing a recession at a time the rest of the nation is economically growing, it’s time for someone to lead.
At least now, they have a roadmap as to how to lead on these issues. Let’s see if that path to agreement becomes a well-worn road.