Departing Land Board chair sought ‘balance.’ Instead, some saw bias

There is more conflict ahead for the Department of Land and Natural Resources — with a controversial new appointee taking over this week.
Published: Jan. 2, 2023 at 5:15 PM HST|Updated: Jan. 2, 2023 at 9:27 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - There is more conflict ahead for the Department of Land and Natural Resources — with a controversial new appointee taking over this week.

Outgoing Chair Suzanne Case’s eight-year tenure included many battles, which now await her successor.

The DLNR is responsible for everything from how to protect endangered species, how much water flows in the streams and how to manage millions of acres of state land.

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So many of the biggest disputes in state government end up in the Office of the Chairperson.

“There is always conflict but i personally don’t think there always needs to be,” Case told Hawaii News Now. “Because what we are trying to do is balance.”

But some issues defied balance.

Like the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea, which led to a stand-off on the mountain that forced Case and the Ige Administration to back down.

She said she has not given up hope for the project.

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“To find a way forward peacefully and respectfully of democracy i think is fundamentally important and we are not there yet,” Case said.

Case added the battles over stream restoration, which often pit big agriculture or development against the revival of traditional crops and indigenous species, were also tough and tedious.

“It’s a very delicate thoughtful balancing action.”

Case said she is proud that 76 streams now have stream flow agreements.

But some advocates of environmental and cultural rights don’t see balance in her leadership, like environmental rights attorney David Kimo Frankel.

“The entire board is at fault,” Frankel said. “But she was the primary driver when it came to these controversial issues. She did not want balance. She was trying to get out of it as soon as possible and accommodate the interests of large economic interests.”

Many also think the state’s dependence on tourism remains out of balance, including Case, who doesn’t see an easy answer, especially with visitors finding many places on social media they didn’t know about before.

“There are no more hidden places and it’s sad. We all grew up with our hidden places and we want them to stay hidden but that’s not how the world is right now, Case said.

The conflict will start right away for the person Gov. Josh Green has appointed to this hot seat. Environmentalists are already complaining about the appointment of development and culture consultant Dawn Chang and vowing to fight her confirmation.