Hawaii House of Representatives

BY JIM DOOLEY – A bill with the potential to scuttle the state’s pending $200 million land transfer to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs was reluctantly approved today by the state House Judiciary Committee.

Passage of the OHA settlement deal is a priority for Gov. Neil Abercrombie but some Capitol observers see a possible repeat of 2008 events, when a similar agreement reached by Gov. Linda Lingle with OHA was nixed by lawmakers.

At issue is a decades-long dispute over compensation to OHA over revenues generated by the state’s use of “ceded lands” once controlled by the Hawaiian Kingdom.

The deal on the table now would transfer eight parcels of property worth $200 million to OHA’s ownership. The board of trustees of OHA has accepted the settlement and recommended passage by the Legislature.

Abercrombie has personally appeared before lawmakers to urge their acceptance of the settlement.

But a related measure, introduced in the Senate and forcefully backed by two influential senators of Native Hawaiian descent, would increase the value of the deal by allowing OHA to build residential high rise buildings on two of the land parcels.

That has provoked opposition from community groups who blocked similar development plans on other property in the same area in 2006.

The Judiciary Committee earlier approved the settlement bill and today moved out the second measure, SB682.

“I believe this bill is really a vehicle for continued discussion regarding the adequacy of the settlement that was approved in the other bill,” said committee chair Rep. Gilbert Keith-Agaran, D-9th Dist. (Wailuku).

“I understand that people do not like the contents of this bill, but I believe that it’s a vehicle for discussion,” said Keith-Agaran.

He said it remains to be seen if the measure will pass another reading of the full House or survive further consideration by the Finance Committee.

All the land in the proposed transfer is on the ocean side of Ala Moana Boulevard in the Kakaako neighborhood of Honolulu.

The two parcels involved in SB682 front Ala Moana and state law now protects them from high-rise residential development.

Various members of the committee expressed reservations about the measure but it passed without any no votes.

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Jim Dooley joined the Hawaii Reporter staff as an investigative reporter in October 2010. Before that, he has worked as a print and television reporter in Hawaii since 1973, beginning as a wire service reporter with United Press International. He joined Honolulu Advertiser in 1974, working as general assignment and City Hall reporter until 1978. In 1978, he moved to full-time investigative reporting in for The Advertiser; he joined KITV news in 1996 as investigative reporter. Jim returned to Advertiser 2001, working as investigative reporter and court reporter until 2010. Reach him at Jim@hawaiireporter.com