Farmer pleads for resolution in years-long dispute on state agricultural lands

He says the case has taken a toll on his own mental health.
Published: Nov. 20, 2023 at 5:35 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 20, 2023 at 5:51 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A legal dispute over a sublease on state agricultural lands has dragged on for years and a produce farmer at the center of the controversy says the stress is taking a toll on his mental health.

The Rojases lawsuit against the state and landlord started in 2020, but Simeon Rojas says it reached a breaking point when he had suicidal thoughts.

For Rojas, a veteran with deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, working the land and producing leafy greens at his aquaponics farm, Hooah Farms in Hawaii Kai and Kahuku, brings him peace.

But for years, a legal dispute between the state, a landlord and the Rojases’ Kahuku farm has dragged on.

Last Tuesday, Rojas, who suffers from post traumatic stress disorder, says he felt like he couldn’t go on with life.

Almost a week later, emotions surfaced quickly when he spoke of that dark place.

“It was too much for me,” said Rojas.

“I just couldn’t take it and I felt like my lights was going out,” he added.

“He was distraught. He was saying stuff like I’m going to shut the lights out already. It’s kinda scary,” said wife Kathy Rojas.

Kathy Rojas contacted a veteran advocate who took the couple to Tripler Army Medical Center for mental health treatment.

“I saw no other action but to take care of my brother,” said veteran advocate Mark Spain.

In their lawsuit, the Rojases alleged that the Agriculture Department had not properly managed the Kahuku Agriculture Park where part of their farm is.

“I don’t think I did anything wrong,” said Simeon Rojas.

But the state agriculture department has said it got dragged into a dispute between two private parties.

Since last year, lawmakers have demanded an investigation and audit of the state’s ag park program in Kahuku and now a faster resolution to the sublease dispute.

“We want this case to be settled. It’s a tactic that I’ve seen defense attorneys do. Delay, deny, delay, deny. Unfortunately, it appears the state is doing the same thing. In this case, it may be fatal for my constituent and friend,” said State Rep. John Mizuno.

The state attorney general says it can’t comment on ongoing litigation. A settlement conference with all parties was in late October.

“The Department of Agriculture is willing to engage in further settlement negotiations in this matter,” it said in a statement.