HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – The Abercrombie administration and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs have agreed on a proposal that would satisfy OHA's claims against the state for its use of ceded lands dating back to 1978.
Under terms of the settlement the state would transfer about 25 acres of land on and near the waterfront in Kakaako to OHA. The state and OHA agree that a $200 million approximate settlement amount represents a reasonable compromise of the disputed claims. The land deal would satisfy that $200 million amount.
"I cannot express to you what this means to the host culture," said OHA Chairperson Colette Machado during a press conference in the governor's office to announce the proposed agreement.
"This is an issue that did not just need attention, but needed resolution," Abercrombie said. "We tried to put together a proposal that the legislature and the general public and the Hawaiian community can see as something that makes sense, and makes sense in a coherent way for the development and the betterment of the Hawaiian people."
Some of the parcels are easily recognizable: Fisherman's Wharf, the Kewalo Marine Laboratory, and the land where John Dominis used to stand, for example. Other spots yet to be developed have the potential to be a source of perpetual revenue for Native Hawaiians.
The term "ceded lands" refers to crown lands once owned by the Hawaiian monarchy.
OHA claims the state owes payment or compensation for using ceded lands.
The proposed settlement needs to be approved by the state legislature. If lawmakers okay the land transfer, it will be up to OHA to come up with development plans for the property. Those plans would then go before the Hawaii Community Development Authority for approval.
OHA attorney Bill Meheula said having the HCDA's oversight is a positive part of the agreement. "You have this outside agency that just specializes in this area, that's going to watch over it and not just let OHA do whatever it wants," he said. "On the other hand, I think it's good for OHA, too, because then they can master plan what they want to do there."
Over the past couple decades the HCDA has considered several proposals for Kakaako, but none has come to fruition.
Machado is not saying yet what OHA may do with the land, just that it will benefit as many people as possible.
"We are very clear that Kakaako Park is the last open space in downtown Honolulu. And with that sensitivity we want to be able to do what is right for everyone including Native Hawaiians and as well as the general public," Machado said.
Former governor Linda Lingle struck a similar deal with OHA. That proposed settlement included land in Hilo and at Kalaeloa. Native Hawaiians said they weren't consulted about the deal. "And then the legislators were (saying), 'You didn't consult us. The Lingle Administration and OHA just enters into this settlement, and then you just come over here and say, hey, just rubber-stamp it? Uh-uh. We're not going to do that,'" said Meheula.
This time around, the state and Meheula believe that it has provided more time for input from all parties, and that its also a better settlement.
"The settlement, as any good settlement does, represents a compromise. Nobody is one hundred percent happy," said Attorney General David Louie. "Sometimes you always leave things on the table, but it represents a reasonable compromise."
The public will have a chance to comment on the latest plan during community meetings that may begin as soon as next month.