So it's officially lights out for the Coco Palms Resort. We now know Kauai County actually can and will pull a zoning permit — it just takes about 20 years. Now we just have to see if the state will kick down $276,650 for a planning grant to figure out what's next for the site. Unfortunately, Santa already came to town, handing out a whopping $1 million to repave the race track in Mana and $1.5 million to reward Rep. Jimmy Tokioka — I mean, build the Kauai Philippines Cultural Center.
Sadly, Syngenta's seed research facility is also coming to town, dumping its digs at the Kunia Research Station on Oahu and perhaps a couple dozen jobs in the process. The company already has field operations here. As one observer wryly noted, “Coming soon to Kekaha because they want to....*feel the love*......”
Which brings to mind the remark made by an earnest, but politically naïve, young friend of mine: “We marched, but nothing changed.”
If you're wondering why the state is still in love with the seed industry, consider this: the industry's value — as determined by total operating expenditures statewide — hit a record $243 million in 2012. The industry grew a stunning 72.2 percent between 2008-12. But curiously, despite the record growth, it's been steadily shedding the jobs that are so often used to justify its existence. It now employs 1,397 people, down from 1,863 in 2009, according to a report commissioned by the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation.
Well, the media shield law will sunset on June 30, a victim of what UH Journalism Professor Gerald Kato so aptly described as Sen. Clayton Hee's “visceral disdain for the media and the failure of political will in the state Senate.” Our own Sen. Ron Kouchi included.
Meanwhile, the state Intermediate Court of Appeals has kicked the Kauai Springs case back to the county planning commission, which in 2007 denied the company's request for use, zoning and special permits to expand its water bottling operations on ag land.
The Fifth Circuit Court subsequently ordered all three permits be issued because the planning commission had missed the deadline for acting on the permit applications and overstepped its authority. The county appealed.
The Appellate Court determined that Kauai Springs had assented to a delay in processing its permits, so the lower court erred in ruling the permits should be automatically approved.
The bigger issue, however, concerns water as a public trust resource, and the county's duties in that regard. The ICA found the county does have a duty, under state law and its own general plan, “to conserve and protect water” in considering whether to issue the permits. The opinion states:
“According to the record, Kauai Springs currently bottles between 1,500 and 2,500 gallons of water per week and proposes an increase to 35,000 gallons of water per week. Thus the record clearly contains evidence that Kauai Springs' existing and proposed use of the Property directly affects a public trust resource.”
Though the ICA commended the county for taking its public trust duties seriously, and for giving higher scrutiny to a private use for economic gain, it found the commission applied incorrect standards and procedures in denying the permits.
So the matter now goes back to the planning commission, which should be able to get it right this time, since the ICA has thoroughly outlined what it needs to do.