BY JIM DOOLEY – Newly appointed State Sen. Malama Solomon is suing the state over a water usage issue on Department of Hawaiian Home Lands pastoral property her family holds on the Big Island.
Solomon is among a group of plaintiffs who filed the suit last year, alleging that DHHL reneged on promises to provide water for livestock that graze on pastoral land leased to the plaintiffs.
The state has argued that it advised the lessees to depend on catchment systems to water their cattle and that bringing water lines to the land would be prohibitively expensive.
Access to water has been a chronic problem for the department and the Native Hawaiians it serves since much of DHHL’s land inventory, transferred from federal control to DHHL in 1920, is arid and far-removed from dependable water supplies.
Governor Neil Abercrombie this week appointed Solomon, a former state legislator and unsuccessful candidate for lieutenant governor in 2006, to fill the senate vacancy created by the departure of Sen. Dwight Takamine, D-1st (Hilo-Hamakua-Waimea).
Takamine left the office to become Abercrombie’s director of the Department of Labor and Industrial relations.
Solomon’s personal involvement in the lawsuit could complicate her professional life in the senate as she considers such issues as DHHL legislation and confirmation of Abercrombie’s appointments to posts including DHHL chairman and Attorney General.
The Attorney General’s office represents the defendants in Solomon’s suit, including the DHHL, its chairman and members of the DHHL commission.
The state won a partial victory in the case in October when U.S. Senior District Judge Alan Kay dismissed two federal claims included in the litigation and remanded the remainder of the claims to state court.
State Judge Mark Browning has scheduled a status conference in the case Feb. 22.
Solomon and other plaintiffs are represented by the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp.
Solomon has not responded to an emailed request for comment.
In 2007, Solomon’s involvement in the Big Island cattle industry figured in her decision to seek a lenient criminal sentence in federal court for a man convicted of methamphetamine trafficking.
The defendant, Shawn Aguiar, was general manager of a cattle shipping firm, American Pacific International, Inc., that Solomon said played an important role in stabilizing beef prices on the Big Island.
“The only assurance we, the Hawaiian ranchers, have of continuing with the stable market is AmPac. They have had the highest prices for 15 years,” Solomon said in a letter to the sentencing judge.
“With my knowledge of AmPac’s operations and personnel I do not feel that they can survive very long without Shawn’s involvement,” the letter said.
Solomon attended the sentencing hearing with about 100 family members and supporters of Aguiar.
District Judge J. Michael Seabright sentenced Aguiar to seven years in prison and said Ampac would have to find another general manager while Aguiar was behind bars.
Aguiar admitted to smuggling 45 pounds of crystal methamphetamine into the state from 2002 to 2005. A codefendant, Big Island cattle rancher Audwin Aiwohi, admitted to smuggling 83 pounds of ice here. Aiwohi was sentenced to more than eight years in prison.