HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Opposition to former Castle & Cooke lobbyist Carleton Ching's nomination to head the Department of Land and Natural Resources continues to mount but the governor is standing by his man.
More than 7,000 people have signed a petition asking the governor to withdraw Ching's nomination as chair of the DLNR, a department which oversees more than 1.3 million acres of state land and beaches and over 750 miles of Hawaii's coastlines.
"If you look at his resume it's just a blueprint for development. So the fear is you'd have the fox guarding the hen house," said David Henkin, staff attorney for EarthJustice.
Added Henry Curtis, executive director of the Life of the Land:
"We really want someone with a passion and the drive to protect the environment and to protect cultural and natural resources." he said.
Ching is a former lobbyist for Castle & Cooke, which is developing the controversial Koa Ridge project and the Big Wind project on Lanai.
At a recent news conference, Ige defended Ching.
"I believe Carlton Ching has the management experience to lead that department and most importantly I believe he has the heart," he said.
"Clearly, if there is a conflict with his former position, he would declare a conflict and recuse himself."
Along with Ching appointment, environmentalists said they were concerned by the way Ige let go several high-profile environmental advocates.
Former Deputy Heath Director Gary Gill, whose agency oversees the state's response to environmental spills and is charged with keeping Hawaii's waters clean, was not retained.
Ching's predecessor, William Aila, was transferred to the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, while Bill Tam, a former DLNR deputy who authored Hawaii's landmark water code, also was dropped.
"It's a concern for me that the administration is willing to remove people without identifying their replacements or without ever having provided justification," said Marti Townsend, executive director of the Outdoor Circle.
Lawmakers say that Ching's confirmation is not in trouble for now. His confirmation hearing is scheduled in mid March.