Community comes to the defense of Lualualei Valley’s ag land
WAIANAE—Experts and long-time residents emphasized Lualualei Valley’s cultural and agricultural significance in testimony last week to the State Land Use Commission (LUC). The nine commission members will decide in May whether 96 acres of agricultural land will be reclassified for urban use—namely for Tropic Land LLC’s construction of a proposed light industrial park. The next, and last, hearing is set for February 2.
Residents are concerned that the reclassification would result in increased traffic and air pollution, as well as the loss of agricultural lands and the desecration of the cultural landscape that the proposed industrial park will cause.
Lualualei Valley is one of only three agricultural districts on Oahu. Development in this area is governed by the Waianae Sustainable Communities Plan, which calls for all industrial land uses to be focused along Farrington Highway. Today, several existing industrial baseyards along Farrington Highway are vacant.
In deciding whether to change the areas land classification, State Land Use Law requires the LUC follow a specific decision making criteria. The LUC must consider how the reclassification would affect, among other things, the preservation of important natural systems or habitats; the maintenance of valued cultural, historical, or natural resources; and the maintenance of other natural resources relevant to Hawaii’s economy, including but not limited to agricultural resources.
Last week’s meeting had residents and Native Hawaiian practitioners having to explain how Lualualei Valley is valuable to them in defense against the industrial developer’s attorney, who argued that the light industrial park would not have a strong affect on the land, people’s culture, or Oahu’s agriculture potential.
Puakea Nogelmeier, an associate professor of Hawaiian language at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, said that because Lualualei Valley is noted frequently in old Hawaiian literature, it makes the area particularly important.
“The profile of Maui, the cave of Hina, a lot of the material dealing with the Maui tradition in the area, that’s on the ground, if not on that site,” he said.
Having edited the epic Pele and Hiiaka chant for book release in 2008, Nogelmeier also noted that Hiiaka, the younger sister of the volcano goddess, traveled through the area and sought water from its famous springs. The route she took through the valley affirmed the ancient pathway Hawaiians traversed.
“The Lualualei corridor was the highway for Waianae, … it’s either Kolekole pass or Pohakea pass that were the main corridors,” Nogelmeier said. “Nobody in their right mind would go out around Kalaeloa [Barber’s Point] unless you had business out there. It’s hot, it’s dry, there’s not water out there. It’s very difficult.”
KAHEA attorney Martha Townsend represents the Concerned Elders of Waianae in opposition of the proposed industrial park. When asked by Townsend whether Tropic Land LLC’s 11-page cultural impact assessment of the valley is sufficient, Nogelmeier said he believes it is not because the cultural geography is not yet entirely known. He notes as a prime example the one-and-a-half million pages of newspaper text from the 19th and early 20th century that has yet to be reviewed.
“Ninety-eight percent of that is awaiting translation or even identification,” he said. “We find new things every day.”
In his cross-examination, William Yuen, Tropic Land LLC’s attorney and a past chair of the LUC, asked Nogelmeier if he was certain that the area of the proposed light industrial park is situated within the ancient pathway in and out of Waianae.
“It’s very likely that it is along the pathway,” he said. “I just can’t say for certain that it is.”
When asked by Yuen whether the significance of the culture would still exist if the land were developed, Nogelmeier said that a recognizable landscape would resonate more with the culture than a highly altered landscape.
Yuen followed the same line of questioning with Emil Wolfgramm, a noted Tongan storyteller.
“The [stories’] significance does continue despite any changes in the physical landscape?” Yuen asked.
Wolfgramm answered “yes” to Yuen, but he later told Townsend that the landscape was important because it reinforced the validity of the ancient legends.
For his testimony, Eric Enos, the founder of Kaala Cultural Learning Center in Waianae Valley, said the valley was one of the few places that one could stargaze without much light pollution.
Enos was also concerned that allowing the light industrial park in Lualualei would create a trend where other adjacent agricultural lands are rezoned. “Once you allow [ag lands to be rezoned], it just opens the floodgate,” he said.
Residents with longtime ties to the valley also recounted their personal stories. Walterbea Aldeguer noted how the moon seemed to disappear when she once stargazed on the property. A few minutes after leaving the property, she could see it clearly at the top of the sky.
“The thought of Maui slowing the sun across the sky came to mind,” Aldeguer said of the deity who is strongly associated with Lualualei valley through legend.
Alice Greenwood, who lived adjacent to the parcel for 30 years and is a member of the Concerned Elders of Waianae, recalls one of the times she saw night marchers. There was a streak of bright light across the mountainside, which, on closer inspection appeared to be fire. The blaze then turned a red color that began to cascade down the slope before it dissipated.
“You guys should all go over there and visit and see for yourself what is happening,” Greenwood said.
When asked if she felt the cultural impact assessment captured the history of the area, Greenwood was adamant in her answer.
“No way,” she said, “because I know those people—they don’t live in that area.”
Lualualei Valley soil found to be highly fertile
On Friday, Jonathan Deenik, a soil sciences professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, argued that the soil found on the proposed industrial park’s property was adequate for agricultural use.
“They are vertisol soils, which are highly fertile and rich in nutrients,” he said.
When questioned by Yuen about the numerous rocks being an issue for potential farmers, Deenik responded that it is common practice to have to remove them before fertilizing the soil. He said that some of the best farming regions in the state—such as Kula on Maui and Waimea on Hawaii Island—also naturally have plenty of rocks.
Yuen asked him if water, or a lack thereof, was an impediment to pursuing agriculture in the area. Deenik said he didn’t have those figures, but noted that water is often the limiting factor for most farms in Waianae. But he stressed that water could limit other activities on that parcel as well.
Deenik lastly noted that because vertisol shrinks and cracks when it’s dry, it provides an unstable foundation for roads and structures, but he agreed with Yuen that technology can overcome these obstacles.
Gary Maunakea-Forth, managing director of nearby MAO Farms, a non-profit that employs students as farm interns while they receive tuition reimbursements for college, said that an industrial park is not suitable for a place that he says has the potential to be the “Tuscany” of Oahu. He says the demand is there, as the executive chef of the Aulani Disney resort, among many restaurants and grocery outlets, has asked the farm supply its organic produce. But he also admitted there are issues with starting a farm on Oahu, not the least of which is finding agricultural land to buy and then getting a bank to finance the purchase.
“There have to be multiple players,” Maunakea-Forth said in response to what can be done to help support local farms. He said that private landowners are going to have to want to invest in food security rather then sell their lands to housing and commercial interests. Other ideas include apprenticeship programs, school gardens, and more lending options.
“We have to make ag [sic] important again,” Maunakea-Forth said.
Bryan Yee from the State Office of Planning asked Maunakea-Forth whether a permanent agricultural easement of nearby property owned by Tropic Land LLC would help to mitigate the loss, to which he responded that it wouldn’t help because the light industrial park would change the landscape of the rural community.
Finding the low road
Ruby Edwards of the State Office of Planning (OP) said the agency supports the proposed development because it would provide economic benefits for the community as well as work and storage space for local businesses.
But in addition to resolving other transportation concerns, long-term access to the Navy-controlled Lualualei Access Road was a prime necessity for the office’s approval because Hakimo Road, the only other route up to the site, is not equipped to handle heavy trucking traffic. The Office of Planning would give the developer five years to secure access to the road before it would have to meet with the LUC to explain the predicament.
Tropic Land LLC currently does not have any agreement with the Navy for the access road despite a few years of negotiation.
Lori Ludlum, a resident of Princess Kahanu Estates, which are Hawaiian Homestead Lands situated near Hakimo Road, emphasized the number of accidents that have occurred on the street because of its narrowness, lack of sidewalks, and the speed of passing trucks. She states that Tropic Land LLC’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) estimates that 500 trucks would be passing in and out of the industrial park every hour.
“Our community cannot handle that amount of trucks,” Ludlum said. “To add 500 more would be disastrous. One truck accident already shuts down the whole neighborhood.”
Edwards said nothing could be done to prevent truckers from accessing Hakimo Road.
“It would be difficult,” Edwards said. “I think it’s just part of the project’s mix.”
Lualualei Valley’s fate in the hands of the commissioners
In 1961, the Hawaii State Legislature determined that a lack of adequate controls had caused the development of Hawaii’s limited and valuable land for short-term gain for the few while resulting in long-term loss to the income and growth potential of the State’s economy, according to the LUC’s bylaws. Development of scattered subdivisions, creating problems of expensive yet reduced public services, and the conversion of prime agricultural land to residential use, were key reasons for establishing the state-wide zoning system.
To administer this state-wide zoning law, the Legislature established the LUC with the responsibility of preserving and protecting Hawaii’s lands and encouraging those uses to which lands are best suited.
The Commission is composed of nine members, who are appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the State Senate. One member is appointed from each of the four counties. Five members are appointed at-large. Commissioners are non-paid volunteers who represent a cross-section of the community.
The Commission’s primary role is to ensure that areas of State concern are addressed and considered in the land use decision-making process.
The Commission establishes the district boundaries for the entire State. The Commission acts on petitions for boundary changes submitted by private landowners, developers, and State and county agencies. The Commission also acts on requests for special use permits within the Agricultural and Rural Districts.
Oahu residents have one more chance, on February 2, to make their case to the LUC. After that, it will be up to the commissioners to decide whether or not the reason for Tropic Land LLC’s construction of a proposed light industrial park is short term gain for the few at the expense of long-term value for Hawaii’s people.
For information on upcoming LUC meetings and to view meeting minutes, visit http://luc.state.hi.us/calndr_page.htm.